Women and Industrialization in Asia

Women and Industrialization in Asia

Women and Industrialization in Asia

Women and Industrialization in Asia


Looking at women in the Asian labour market, this book produces some surprising results and dispels some common myths regarding the position of female workers in the region.


Susan Horton

Women’s work has played an important part in the process of industrialization. Nowhere has this been more evident than in Asia, where women’s work in the export industries has played such an important role in successful growth. Key light export industries such as textiles and electronics rely heavily on young, relatively unskilled, women workers. Women’s contribution to earning foreign exchange via the promotion of tourism (e.g. Thailand) and migrant worker remittances (the Philippines) has also been considerable.

There have been many anthropological and sociological studies of women’s market work in Asia, documenting the long hours, low pay, poor working conditions, and often dead-end jobs. The effect on women’s lives has also been examined, whereby young, often rural and less well educated women work in manufacturing industry in the period before marriage and childbearing. There have been far fewer studies of the bigger picture, namely the overall role that women play in the labour market, and how this has been changing in the process of development.

This book tries to examine that bigger picture, using labour force surveys for seven Asian countries at several points in time. The focus is on examining how women’s labour market participation, employment patterns and earnings have changed over time in the process of industrialization.

The seven countries range from low income developing countries (India, Indonesia) to upper middle income developing countries (Korea) and one OECD country (Japan). Two of the seven have had relatively slow growth of per capita GNP over the last twenty-five years (India and the Philippines), whilst the others have had growth in per capita GDP exceeding 4 per cent per annum (World Bank, 1992). Background information on levels of per capita GDP, women’s education and fertility is given in Table 1.1. Some potentially interesting cases (such as socialist countries) had to be omitted because of lack of comparable data. The

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