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What Drives Female Labor Force Participation? Comparable Micro-Level Evidence from Eight Developing and Emerging Economies


  • Klasen, Stephan

    (University of Göttingen)

  • Pieters, Janneke

    () (Wageningen University)

  • Santos Silva, Manuel

    () (University of Göttingen)

  • Ngoc Tu, Le Thi

    () (University of Göttingen)


We investigate the micro-level determinants of labor force participation of urban married women in eight low- and middle-income economies: Bolivia, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Jordan, South Africa, Tanzania, and Vietnam. In order to understand what drives changes and differences in participation rates since the early 2000s, we build a unified empirical framework that allows for comparative analyses across time and space. We find that the coefficients of women's characteristics differ substantially across countries, and this explains most of the between-country differences in participation rates. In particular, the relationship between a woman's education and her participation in the labor force varies from being positive and linear (Brazil and South Africa) to being U- or J-shaped (India, Jordan, and Indonesia), or a mixture of both (Bolivia, Vietnam, and Tanzania). Overall, the economic, social, and institutional constraints that shape women's labor force participation remain largely country-specific. Nonetheless, rising education levels and declining fertility consistently increased participation rates, while rising household incomes contributed negatively in relatively poorer countries, suggesting that a substantial share of women work out of economic necessity.

Suggested Citation

  • Klasen, Stephan & Pieters, Janneke & Santos Silva, Manuel & Ngoc Tu, Le Thi, 2019. "What Drives Female Labor Force Participation? Comparable Micro-Level Evidence from Eight Developing and Emerging Economies," IZA Discussion Papers 12067, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp12067

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    Cited by:

    1. Ragui Assaad & Rana Hendy & Moundir Lassassi & Shaimaa Yassin, 2020. "Explaining the MENA paradox: Rising educational attainment yet stagnant female labor force participation," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 43(28), pages 817-850.
    2. Azam, Mehtabul & Han, Luyi, 2019. "Accounting for Differences in Female Labor Force Participation between China and India," IZA Discussion Papers 12681, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    3. Azam Mehtabul & Han Luyi, 2020. "Accounting for Differences in Female Labor Force Participation between China and India," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 20(2), pages 1-17, April.

    More about this item


    female labor force participation; gender; labor markets; development;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • J20 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - General
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination
    • I25 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Education and Economic Development
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration

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