Women in the Global Workforce

With India, China and other developing countries growing rapidly and becoming major players in the global economy, the last two decades have witnessed close to one billion people joining the global workforce. We wonder: How many women would be added to the world's labor force if the share of women who work equaled that of men?

A. 13 million
B. 171 million
C. 546 million
D. One billion

A. 13 million is not correct.

Thirteen million represents the additional number of women that would be added to the U.S. labor force if labor force participation rates for women aged 20-64 equaled those of men.

While many women undertake a great deal of productive work outside the formal labor force, such as childcare and homemaking, estimated rates of formal labor force participation are greater for men than for women.

For example, in the United States, women have an average labor force participation rate of 72% among those aged 20-64, compared to 85% for men.

B. 171 million is not correct.

If the share of Indian women who work were equal to that of Indian men, 171 million women would join India's labor force. This figure is about 50 million larger than the country's entire female labor force as it stands today.

The percentage of women in India's labor force is relatively low. For example, while the highest rate for women is just under 50% for those between 35-39 years old, it is 98% for men in that age group.

C. 546 million is correct.

If the world's women aged between 20-64, who number close to two billion, had the same rates of labor force participation as men — on average 90% — then more than a half billion more women would be added to the global workforce. Today, on average about 60% of women in this age group work.

Women between the ages of 35-49 — that is, after childbearing and the early years of child-rearing — have the highest labor force participation rates, at around 70%. In comparison, the rates for women of childbearing age, between 25-34 years, are 63-66%.

D. One billion is not correct.

If every woman in the world currently between the ages of 20 and 64 years were to join the labor force, the global labor pool would expand by about 760 million additional workers.

If women were to have the same labor force participation rates as men, a gain of one billion additional workers would be achieved by around 2035.

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