Touchstone Television / Buena Vista International Television

Women in the Global Workforce

The global labor pool expanded vastly following China’s opening to international trade four decades ago. Could there be another large wave of people entering the global workforce? We wonder: How many women over 25 worldwide are currently neither employed nor actively seeking work?

A. 49 million
B. 244 million
C. 305 million
D. 1.1 billion

A. 49 million … is not correct.

As of 2017, there are 49 million women in the United States who are currently outside the workforce, in the sense that they are neither employed nor actively seeking work, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).

This figure only includes women aged 25 or older, to avoid inadvertently including women and girls who are still in secondary school or university. But it does include older women who may be retired. Labor force participation rates among seniors vary widely by country, with developing economies retaining a larger share of people working well past age 65 to meet their needs.

By comparison to the 49 million outside the workforce, there are 64 million U.S. women who are part of the labor force, i.e. currently working or jobless, yet seeking employment.

The number of U.S. men in the same age range who are outside the labor force is just 30 million, while 76 million U.S. men are in the labor force.

While many women undertake a great deal of productive work outside the formal labor force, such as childcare, eldercare and homemaking, this is not counted as part of labor force participation.

In the United States, women over 25 years of age have an average labor force participation rate of 57% (meaning fewer than six in 10 of these women are working or seeking work), compared to 72% for men the same age.

B. 244 million … is not correct.

In India, nine out of every 10 men are part of the labor force. In contrast, just 31% of Indian women over 25 years old are. Just 109 million Indian women were working in 2017, compared to 331 million men.

As a result, there are 244 million women in India who are currently not part of the labor force. However, worldwide, many women are not available to work in a paid job due to insufficient social program supports.

Still, considering that across the world’s most developed economies (including the United States), there are 200 million women outside the labor force, India all by itself has about 20% more women outside the workforce than the entire developed world.

In the world’s other country with more than one billion residents, China, 176 million women are outside the country’s labor force – a figure around 30% smaller than in India. Within the labor force, there are 313 million Chinese women over 25 who are working, compared to 408 million Chinese men.

In 2017, 81% of Chinese men were working, down from 88% back in 1991. Female labor force participation in 1991 was 71%, but fell to 64% by 2017. This is partly explained by newly middle-class households being able to shift securely to single-income status (traditionally men).

Both participation rates also declined, however, once more Chinese workers were able to retire and live longer in retirement.

C. 305 million … is not correct.

Sub-Saharan Africa, with its one billion people currently, is often viewed as an emerging market with the potential scale and impact of India over the long run.

The region’s adult population is already quite fully employed, with 80% of all sub-Saharan Africans over the age of 25 working or actively seeking work. There are 305 million men and women in sub-Saharan Africa’s labor force.

Currently, 73% of women over the age of 25 are working – a total of 144 million women. Only 52 million women over 25 remain outside the economic system.

However, these numbers may well change quite dramatically over the course of the 21st century. By 2100, Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to nearly quadruple its total population, to reach 3.9 billion.

Given that population explosion, and the resulting increase of young people joining the continent’s labor force, it is unclear whether relatively high female labor force participation rates will be maintained. If the population growth far surpasses job creation, unemployment will rise. That might push women out of the workforce in favor of finding work for men.

D. 1.1 billion … is correct.

There are nearly 1.1 billion women worldwide, 25 years or older, who are not part of the labor force or seeking employment actively, according to ILO data for 2017.

Behind India’s 244 million, China’s 176 million, Sub-Saharan Africa’s 52 million, the U.S.’s 49 million women outside the labor force, the next largest pools are Indonesia (34), Pakistan (33), Brazil (31), Bangladesh (28), Japan (25), Russia (23) and Iran (21).

That 1.1 billion is also nearly the same number as the number of women in that age range who are part of the labor force already – about 1.2 billion.

By comparison, there are only 393 million men globally who are outside the labor force, while 1.8 billion men are working. Put differently, 82% of men are participants in the labor force, whereas just 52.3% of women are.

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