The power of parity: Advancing women’s equality in Asia Pacific
The power of parity: Advancing women’s equality in the Asia Pacific report from the McKinsey Global Institute explores the challenge of gender inequality in Asia Pacific, one of the most economically dynamic regions in the world and an engine of global growth, and considers what it will take to deliver gender parity in the region.
Asia Pacific is today arguably the most dynamic region in the world, a global engine of growth driven by productivity, investment, technology, and innovation. Women can help – and are helping—to power this engine, making vital contributions to sustaining and enhancing Asia’s growth and lifting more people out of poverty. Yet gaps remain large in many countries in the region on gender equality both in work and in society. From an economic perspective, trying to grow without enabling the full potential of women is like fighting with one hand tied behind one’s back.
By advancing women’s equality, the economies of Asia Pacific could boost their collective GDP by $4.5 trillion a year by 2025, a 12 percent increase over business-as-usual GDP. This additional GDP would be equivalent to adding an economy the combined size of Germany and Austria each year. China and India would benefit most in absolute and relative terms, respectively. Advancing women’s equality not only is important from a moral and social perspective, but also delivers a considerable growth dividend.
This research builds on the McKinsey Global Institute’s 2015 report on global gender inequality, ‘The power of parity: How advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth’, which found that advancing women’s equality could add $12 trillion to annual global GDP by 2025. Every region studied has the potential to increase its GDP by 8 to 16 percent over the next ten years. The report used 15 economic and social indicators to compile a Gender Parity Score for each country.
- All countries would benefit from advancing women’s equality. In a best-in-region scenario in which each country matches the rate of progress of the fastest-improving country in its region, the largest absolute GDP opportunity is in China at $2.6 trillion, a 13 percent increase over business-as-usual GDP. The largest relative GDP opportunity is in India, which could achieve an 18 percent increase over business-as-usual GDP, or $770 billion. Across Asia Pacific, it is estimated that 58 percent of the opportunity would come from raising the female labour-force participation ratio, 17 percent from increasing the number of hours women work, and the remaining 25 percent from more women working in higher-productivity sectors.
- The report establishes a strong link between gender equality in work and in society—the former is not achievable without the latter. The Gender Parity Score using 15 indicators of gender equality in work and society, measures the distance each country has travelled towards parity, which is set at 1.00. Overall, Asia Pacific has a Gender Parity Score of 0.56, slightly lower than the global average of 0.61— both “high” levels of gender inequality. But countries in the region vary in their positions on specific indicators. There is no single Asia Pacific story.
- On gender equality in work, the Philippines stands out for its progress, followed by New Zealand and Singapore. The six countries furthest from gender parity in work are Bangladesh, India, Japan, Nepal, Pakistan, and South Korea. China does well on female labour-force participation but can improve its share of women in leadership—as can most countries in Asia. Globally, there are fewer than four women in leadership roles to every ten men, but, in Asia Pacific, only around one woman for every four men. Gender inequality also remains high across the region in the sharing of unpaid care work.
- On gender equality in society, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, and Singapore are ahead of most in the region on essential services such as education, maternal and reproductive health, financial and digital inclusion, and legal protection and political voice; countries like Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan still have a considerable distance to travel. Achieving gender parity in digital and financial inclusion is a large opportunity in many South Asian and Southeast Asian countries. Physical security and autonomy remain a concern in many parts of the region—and globally.
- Asia Pacific nations have made progress in the past decade, driven by a combination of economic development, government measures, technological change, market forces, and activism. Maternal mortality and gender gaps in education have declined in countries including Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, and Nepal. Many countries have increased women’s labour-force participation, but participation has fallen in Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka, a trend that may be linked to rising household income.
- Mapping the road ahead, policy makers, companies, and non-governmental organisations could consider prioritising action in five areas that are urgent issues (to differing degrees) across the region:
- (1) focus on higher female labour-force participation, with steps to address unpaid care work as a priority to boost economic growth;
- (2) address the pressing regional and global issue of women’s underrepresentation in business leadership positions;
- (3) capture the economic and social benefits of improving access to digital technology;
- (4) shift social attitudes about women’s role in society and work in order to underpin progress on all aspects of gender inequality; and
- (5) collaborate on regional solutions as powerful catalysts for gender equality.
- In brief
- The path to parity: An Asia Pacific overview
- Opportunities for women in business leadership
- The Philippines