Discrimination and low bargaining power: sources of inequity for women in Asia

Discrimination against women is a key factor in explaining gender disparities in the labor market. Meanwhile, low bargaining power at home leads to further inequity for women. Findings from PEP studies in four Asian countries indicate the sources of inequity for women.

In Sri Lanka, men and women with identical characteristics are not paid equally. Furthermore, women are found to be paid less, even when they have better characteristics. Similarly, in China, the effects of employers’ prejudice against women are so strong that women experience longer periods of unemployment than men despite displaying characteristics that should give them an advantage. Both studies point to discrimination against women as a key source of gender inequity in the labor market.

These PEP findings concur with an Oxfam report published earlier this year, which cites discrimination as the main reason that women receive lower pay for equal work. Unfortunately, findings from other PEP projects indicate that even when women create their own jobs, discriminatory social norms hinder female entrepreneurship

Other PEP studies in Asia looked at gender disparities within the household. Findings from rural India indicate that bargaining positions within the household are linked to participation in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), a government welfare program. When women are the only MGNREGS participants in the household, they have a lower bargaining position. If the husband and the wife both participate in the scheme, decision-making power is shared more equally.

A PEP research team in Bangladesh believes that women’s reduced bargaining power within the family explains their finding that women’s participation in microcredit programs significantly increased the probability that the men in the household will be entrepreneurs. The team suggests that the female beneficiaries allow their male family members to use the loans, noting that married women are less likely to become entrepreneurs than unmarried women (while the opposite is true for men). 

Find out more about the projects featured in this article:

Sri Lanka

Glass Ceilings, Sticky Floors or Sticky Doors? A Quantile Regression Approach to Exploring Gender Wage Gaps in Sri Lanka

Working Paper 2008-04      Policy Brief 42     Project page


Why Do Women Have Longer Unemployment Durations than Men in Post-Restructuring Urban China?

Working Paper 2007-23     Policy Brief 33     Project page


Intra-household bargaining in rural India

Working Paper 2016-20     Policy Brief 146      Project page


Women's entrepreneurship and access to microcredit: Evidence from Bangladesh

Working Paper 2016-13     Policy Brief 139     Project page


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