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The Feminization of Employment through Export-Led Strategies: Evidence from Viet Nam.

Féminisation de l’emploi dans les stratégies axées sur l’exportation : l’exemple du Viet Nam
Thi Anh-Dao Tran

Résumés

Les premiers NPI d’Asie de l’Est ont confirmé le rôle des exportations comme moteur de la croissance. Toutefois, la plupart des études existantes omettent un fait important: la féminisation du travail a considérablement contribué à leur industrialisation rapide. Les théories féministes du commerce font valoir que les stratégies de développement orientées vers l’exportation sont fondées sur l’exploitation du travail féminin bon marché. Avec l’accélération de la mondialisation, il est vrai qu’un nombre croissant de femmes dans les Pays En Développement (PED) sont absorbées dans des industries à forte intensité de main-d’œuvre et orientées vers l’exportation. Cependant, les changements structurels qui accompagnent cette stratégie, ainsi que l’environnement international auquel le Sud est confronté aujourd’hui, ont modifié substantiellement les ressorts de cette féminisation de l’emploi. Cet article passe en revue les principaux mécanismes à l’œuvre à travers une approche structuraliste du genre. En examinant le taux d’activité des femmes au Viet Nam, nous analysons comment les relations de genre découlant de caractéristiques structurelles, mais aussi des normes sociales et institutionnelles, ont un lien avec son industrialisation à l’exportation.

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Nous tenons à remercier les rapporteurs et le Comité éditorial pour leurs critiques constructives, qui ont permis d’améliorer de manière substantielle la version préliminaire de cet article. Nos remerciements vont également aux participants des conférences dans lesquelles nous avons présenté ce travail : Tools for thinking connected Southeast Asia, Social Sciences and Humanities Dialogues (Université de Thammasat, Bangkok, Thaïlande, 12 Novembre 2018); 6th French Network for Asian Studies International Conference (FNASIC)/Congrès Asie 2017, Sciences Po (Paris, 26-28 juin 2017); Developing Economics: Towards a Critical Research Agenda for Development Economics, EAEPE Symposium 2017 (Berlin, Allemagne, 10-11 Juin 2017). Nous restons néanmoins seule responsable des éventuelles erreurs ou insuffisances.

Introduction

  • 1 International trade has grown at a sluggish pace that has deteriorated considerably since 2015 (UNC (...)

1Recent decades have seen major changes in the pattern of international trade. Firstly, the shift towards more outward-looking policies has pushed an ever growing number of Developing Countries (DCs) into the international markets. Secondly, much of the increase in export flows from these DCs has occurred in manufactures. From 10% in 1980, the share of DCs in world exports of manufactures reached 45% in 2015, while the share of exports of manufactures in total merchandise exports for all DCs grew from 30% to 66.6% over the same period (UNCTAD, 2011, 2018)1. These observations suggest that developing export capacity in manufactures has been a central focus for most DCs. However, the export-oriented development strategy has been increasingly open to question. Firstly, to the extent that a growing number of DCs are exporting, there is a risk that an intensification of price-based competition among them will increase concerns about sustainable development. Secondly, the internationalization of production has consolidated Global Value Chains (GVCs) that have been behind the rapid growth of some emerging countries. Nevertheless, even though it has contributed to their growth performance, there is a danger that external trade driven by participation in GVCs organized around transnational corporations (TNCs) lock DCs into a narrow pattern of international specialization with limited resilience (Dinh & Tran, 2014).

2In the meantime, gender relations have become of growing interest in economics. Firstly, an increasing number of women in DCs have been absorbed into the labour markets. From a feminist perspective, female workers are clearly perceived as a way for DCs to attract TNCs in search of low costs (Nash &Fernández-Kelly, 1983). However, a second motive for companies is to mitigate adverse external shocks and gender is one of the ways in which production costs can be controlled. In this connection, the International Labour Organization and the World Trade Organization have reported that new forms of “informality” have arisen in the context of globalization (ILO & WTO, 2009). Characterized by an almost total absence of job security, low labour rights and reduced access to social protection, the increase in informality has coincided with the rise in women’s labour force participation. This point may limit DCs’ potential to fully benefit from their participation into the world economy (Braunstein, 2012; Verick, 2008).

3From our point of view, the Asian success stories hide an increased vulnerability to the main risks associated with globalization. Foreign firms’ penetration into a wider range of sectors and the increasing orientation towards export necessarily impact on the quality of work, corporate social responsibility and the consequent adherence to social norms and international labour standards. Meanwhile, the rise in income inequality reflects changes in the pattern of production as well as in employment opportunities and income diversification generated by trade integration. All these issues are of great concern, but the question that is addressed here is whether such an export-oriented strategy is combined with the feminization of employment, and what are the inner drives behind this. We argue here that DCs’ increased vulnerability stems from structural characteristics as well as from the gender division of labour that accompanies an export-led growth strategy. As such, our main motivation here is to obtain a deeper understanding of the way globalization may shape a pattern of development by scrutinizing it through a gender lens.

4The rest of the paper is organized as follows. Section 2 provides a theoretical framework for our research questions. Section 3 develops a comparative analysis for the Asian economies; a case study is then compiled from Vietnamese datasets. Section 4 summarizes the main results and offers some conclusions.

1. A theoretical framework

5As globalization has accelerated, trade integration at both multilateral and regional levels has expanded over recent decades. In this context, some authors have argued that the feminization of the labour force is inevitable because of the competitive pressures resulting from the ongoing process (Standing, 1989). However, what lies concealed behind the scenes? What are the connections with the other variables? In very recent years, new evidence has been published that helps us to better understand what gender analysis tells us. The bulk of previous work on gender and trade focused on labour market issues. A growing number of economists working in the areas of development and international economics who have incorporated gender perspectives into their work have extended the analysis at both the micro and macro-economic levels. The literature on a gendered economics of trade and inequality (be it in wages or in employment differentials) can be divided into two strands: the first focuses on the impacts of trade on gender and the other on the impacts of gender on trade (Van Staveren et al., 2007).

6One of the main sets of studies on the subject adopts a rather heterodox approach, since gender economics is concerned with economic power, behavioural norms and structural features, with an emphasis on critical theories of how economies function (Lichtenstein, 2016). Accordingly, the present paper relies on a structuralist vision, in which it is assumed that gender inequality is underpinned by patterns of production, market structures and the international context. More specifically, our approach is based on neo-structuralism, a school of thought that explains underdevelopment through the existence of endogenous and structural factors rather than distortions caused by ill-advised economic policies (Fontaine & Lanzarotti, 2001). We assume here that the relationship between gender and export-oriented strategies is shaped by structural determinants. In particular, globalization is assumed to have restructured economic power at different levels (within the national economy, but also at the level of the power relations between developed and developing countries). We are primarily concerned with gender gaps from a macroeconomic perspective, as the focus has moved from micro-level analysis to a concern with macro-level forces (Kabeer, 2015).

1.1. Gender and the industrial export-led growth

7A seminal contribution to a further analysis of the gender-growth nexus has been Seguino (2000). The author investigates empirically the determinants of economic growth for a set of semi-industrialized export-oriented economies in which women provide the bulk of labour in the export sector. While conventional theories on growth and development argue that gender-based inequality is bad for growth, Seguino (2000) finds rather that it makes a positive contribution. The intuitive idea is that greater female participation helps to maintain lower, more competitive prices in the manufacturing sector while supporting capital accumulation through income distribution. In short, the assumption that open markets will lead to higher growth that benefits all members of a country is no longer fully shared by economists.

8Against this background, another linkage is of great concern here, namely the gender-trade nexus. According to traditional trade theories, there is a positive correlation between, on the one hand, trade openness and, on the other, employment and wage. Participation in international trade is expected to increase unskilled wages in countries with a relative abundance of unskilled or less skilled labour. Employment is a key concern in trade expansion and in the related literature, it is expected that job creation will be higher in the export sector than the other sectors. Viewed from a gender perspective, that means that female Labour Force Participation (LFP) rises whenever those sectors that make intensive use of female labour expand as a result of increased trade. The neo-classical model of international trade (with the concept of comparative advantage and the Stolper-Samuelson prediction) concludes that women are helped by trade liberalization which reduces the gender wage gap.

9Unfortunately, much of the research on the gender effects of trade focuses on specific case studies and is limited by the difficulty of disentangling the effects of trade liberalization from those of other simultaneous reforms and changes (World Bank, 2012). For specific country cases in both developed and DCs, the studies of particular interest suggest that trade and FDI reduce the gender gap (for a review of the literature, see Braunstein, 2006; World Bank, 2012). However, in the few papers that examine their effects in a large group of countries, the expected results are not always found. Against this background, Aguayo‐Tellez (2011) reviews the literature on the impact of trade liberalization and FDI on gender inequality in employment, wages, education and skills, health and other dimensions of welfare in both developed and DCs. It is noted that:

The effects of trade liberalization and FDI on gender inequality depend on global and local conditions such as resource endowments, labour market institutions, government institutions and consumer preferences. For example, women´s relative employment and wages may increase if their labour participation is relatively larger in the less protected sectors or in the sectors receiving larger flows of FDI; women´s relative health may increase if female control over household spending increases as consequence of a narrowing gender wage gap; and women´s relative education may decrease if the loss of government revenues from reduced tariffs leads to cuts on education expenditure. However, if trade boosts economic growth, and with it, improves the quality of public services, gender disparities in human capital, such as health and education, will tend to fall. (p. 7)

10In short, this lack of evidence is due to structural features that interact with gender relations. In development economics, structuralist thinking is articulated around the power relations between center and periphery, the criticism to comparative advantage and the prominence of the external constraint, the dual character of economic development at different levels, the need for an adequate regional and international insertion, the necessity of a development guided by the government (Bárcena & Prado, 2016). Neo-structuralism was born as a response to the adoption of the Washington Consensus at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s, of its austerity and free market oriented policies as the way for countries to solve their development problems. By investigating more deeply the issues addressed in structuralism, neo-structuralists consider that the main economic problems in DCs are not fundamentally the result of distortions in economic policy or the market, but instead have historical origins and structural characteristics (Fontaine & Lanzarotti, 2001). Therefore, the changes that it proposes are also structural in nature and are oriented towards improving international trade insertion, reducing structural heterogeneity, increasing the creation of productive jobs, and improving income distribution. At the center of this paradigm is the action of the State, based on a new equation with the market and society. In a structuralist development perspective, macroeconomic outcomes are underpinned by a deep structural inequality between labour forces and productive sectors. Because structural change is driven by cross-sector differences in profitability, capital accumulation, elasticities of production and consumption, the corresponding “gender intensities” have different labour market outcomes (Taylor, 1991). Accordingly, gender inequalities stem from sectoral and occupational segregation in employment.

11A feminist perspective allows us to extend the analysis by arguing that it is also concerned with differences in behaviour that are shaped by gendered power relations that permeate the whole economy and underpin norms for male and female roles and responsibilities (Degrave, 2005; Van Staveren, 2010). Gender differences in economic outcomes, such as sectoral and occupational attainment, relative wage level and gender roles in the household, are crucially intertwined with the allocation of time spent in paid employment and unpaid work (Elias & Roberts, 2018). This deep structural inequality may mean that any apparently neutral policy (such as trade liberalization or FDI attraction, for instance) may be gender biased. In this sense, “A feminist economics of trade is necessary because it prioritizes issues that are otherwise neglected and makes visible interactions that are otherwise invisible” (Van Staveren et al., 2007; p. 2). In other words, the gender impacts of trade liberalization may differ from country to country depending on national patterns of production and on who is trading with whom (Falquet et al., 2010; Lichtenstein, 2016). Ffrench-David (2016) can resume the debate:

One of the fundamental responsibilities of the State in the field of economic and social development is for the environment in which the producers and consumers of goods and services of the national economy operates […]. This is what has been called macroeconomics for development, which is essential to developing a strategy for growth with equity. (p. 117)

1.2. Gender and trade prices

12Another body of literature examines the reverse causality by looking at the impacts of gender on trade. Among the drivers of export performance, the literature on export-led growth points to the benefits of keeping the prices of exportable products at competitive levels in order to make it attractive to shift resources into their production. The early experiences of the Newly Industrializing Countries (NICs) of East Asia have directed attention to the real exchange rate as policy tool relevant to development. However, increasing female Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR) is another way. Gender inequality in employment and in wages can have an impact on trade-related outcomes, such as export competitiveness. Consequently, the neo-structuralist approach has much to tell us because it takes account of the equilibrium of flows (or the related imbalances), markets and prices in the short term (Fontaine & Lanzarotti, 2001; Tran, 2001). This, in itself, highlights the limits to export-led growth strategies in DCs.

13On this ground, a mechanism behind the deteriorating terms of trade between the North and South (the well-known Prebisch-Singer hypothesis) can be found in gender inequality (Osterreich, 2007). As the pace of globalization quickens, strong competitive pressures on prices push open economies to rely on an ever cheaper supply of labour in export-oriented development and industrialization strategies. One consequence is that a substantial part of the fall in the value of world trade is just nominal rather than a real contraction. In short, while many exporters have had to cope with lower prices, they have seen no decline in export volumes. As highlighted in UNCTAD (2018), the fall in commodity prices and the appreciation of the US$ have contributed significantly to the fall in the value of international trade in recent years. Still, other deflationary factors can also explain this trend. Because female workers in the South have less ability to negotiate pay rises, gender wage gap is an important aspect of the differences between Northern and Southern labour markets and the consequent unequal terms of trade for manufactured goods. In order to maintain export competitiveness, DCs increase female LFP but, through a cumulative process, they exacerbate deflationary pressures and decrease their own bargaining power. By reducing labour market discriminations against women, governments in the South could counteract the tendency of their terms of trade to fall (Osterreich, 2007).

14In this context, feminist heterodox economists of trade bring a critical interpretation to export-oriented development strategies which have so far been exploitative of cheap female labour in the South (Lichtenstein, 2016). The rationale behind this is that the burden of both global and regional competition is borne by female labour and that this helps to keep the prices of manufactured exports competitive. The notion of gendered competitive advantage is then developed by considering the effect of gender inequality on the composition of trade output (Van Staveren et al., 2007). Indeed, one popular theory in the conventional literature is that women have a comparative advantage in “mental” labour while men have a comparative advantage in “physical” labour. Hence, women would support competitive prices in brain (versus brawn) activities in a country’s trade specialization (see Busse & Spielman, 2006; Do et al., 2016). However, feminist heterodox economists counter argue that women workers are rather a source of competitive advantage for producers using labour-intensive production methods because of gender gaps in bargaining power in households and labour markets. Firms compete for export market share on the basis of unit costs and prefer women’s labour because it is relatively cheaper (Seguino, 1997; Tejani & Milberg, 2016). Elson et al. (2007) point out that

In the field of international trade, a more adequate formulation of competition and discrimination is provided by Marxian and post-Keynesian theories that explain trade through absolute advantage, rather than comparative advantage, and focus on the acquisition of competitive advantage rather than on perfect competition. (p. 41)

This gendered division of labour is closely intertwined with the strength of gender norms, cultural constructs and institutions so long as it perpetuates a gender stratification of the economy and the society. For example, women are believed to possess gender specic skills and “attributes” such as dexterity, docility, submissiveness, and reluctance to join unions, which made them suitable for certain gender-typed jobs (Elson & Pearson, 1981).

15Job segregation by gender, coupled with wage discrimination, can then stimulate short-term growth under certain conditions. In this vein, Blecker and Seguino (2002) develop structuralist macro models of an export-oriented economy in which women workers are concentrated in export production. The main mechanism is that low wages resulting from job segregation improve the balance of payments (through the export-investment nexus) and reduce the need to rely on currency devaluation, resulting in the “feminization of foreign exchange earnings” (UNCTAD, 2017). Under this gendered division of labour (i.e. women’s segregation into export-sector employment at lower wages), altering the policy environment and the structure of gender relations can relieve some of the trade-offs between women’s wage gains and export competitiveness.

1.3. Gender and the export-investment nexus

16As defined by Bresser-Perreira et al. (2014), structuralist development macroeconomics is:

the economic theory that explains economic development as a historical process of capital accumulation with incorporation of technological progress and structural change in which the accumulation depends on the existence of profitable investment opportunities offered by the sustained growth of demand, which, on its turn, depend on the even increase of the domestic market and of exports. (p.  56)

In this setting, capital accumulation through income distribution is at the core of an export-oriented industrialization strategy. From our point of view, the consequent export-investment nexus is intertwined with job segregation to result in a two-way causality between gender and trade.

17At the macroeconomic level, a gender perspective to this transmission mechanism is captured by the degree of substitution or complementarity between male and female labour, or between female and male labour and capital. In any productive activity that uses more intensively female workers, capital is thought to substitute for physical labour and to complement mental labour (Pham, 2009). Hence, as an economy increases capital investment to develop export capacity in manufactures, it disproportionately increases the demand for women and, it is argued, leads to increased female employment.

18The first implication is that since FDI provides needed capital, FDI firms should also employ more women. Braunstein (2006) provides a summary of the empirical and policy-related literature on the multifaceted relationships between gender inequalities and foreign capital. In terms of women’s employment and FDI, it is clear that foreign investment in largely export-oriented industries has had a significant impact on women’s work. FDI with industry upgrading can lead to the adoption of more capital and skill-intensive technologies. These technologies may be more suited to female labour, thus increasing the relative demand for women workers and their relative employment and wages.

19However, a first caveat is that FDI and international competition can also push women down the production chain into subcontracted work as competition forces firms to continually lower costs in order to increase profitability. For feminist economists of trade, female workers help foreign capital in different ways: they are disinclined to join labour unions, less likely to be in involved in industrial unrest and less able to bargain for rises in productivity to be matched by rises in wages (Seguino, 2017). A second caveat is existing cultural norms in the host country, whereby women’s domestic responsibilities may prevent them from being able to exploit the opportunities that international trade brings. For example, women still lag behind in skill development programmes and on-the-job training, particularly in the technical and management-related fields opened up by foreign companies (UNCTAD, 2017). In short, implicit barriers may impede improvement in women’s job opportunities and incomes as FDI expands.

20The nature of gender stratification and industrial distribution (where women are concentrated in highly competitive traded sectors) and the high mobility of foreign capital are instrumental in determining the gender differences in economic outcomes. In this context, a second implication is that the globalization of production, which puts pressure on TNCs to keep their prices low and their production more flexible, tends to increase the use of informal labour at the bottom of the sub-contracting chain (Balakrishnan, 2002 ; ILO-WTO, 2009). Although it is less straightforward, a rising number of studies identifies the channels through which the effects of trade on informal employment and wages are transmitted and points to the implications of labour market segmentation for gender gaps.

21As the production relationships between formal and informal sectors appear to be relevant, a structuralist approach focuses on the different mechanisms through which trade openness may affect informal employment. Maiti and Marjit (2008), for instance, link the growth of informal activities to the improved export opportunities generated by trade openness, using a model in which formal firms subcontract production to the informal economy. Globalization (which transforms production modes and labour organization) forces formal firms to embrace cost-reducing strategies by establishing vertical linkages with the informal economy. In the same vein, Cimoli et al. (2005) show that any structural weakness that inhibits growth in the export-oriented formal sector (the “core”) may prevent it from absorbing the informal economy (the “periphery”). Those structural characteristics include the degree of local integration between the different economic sectors, the structure of the domestic formal economy as well as the type of international specialization.

  • 2 Vulnerable employment is defined by the ILO as a combination of “own account” and “contributory fam (...)

22This enables us to link the participation of DCs in GVCs with female labour intensity. Indeed, global production networks are based on the concepts of market access, economies of scale and greater flexibility in production in response to fluctuations in product demand, which have made informal working arrangements more common. The data examined by Shepherd and Stone (2017) tend to support that GVC-related firms hire more women, the wage gap in these firms can be higher and some of the jobs created may not have permanent contractual status. Therefore, any factor that facilitates large-scale production at far lower cost, with less stringent regulations or more quickly than elsewhere will help to shift production sites across countries. For example, the establishment of Export Processing Zones (EPZs) is a particular strategy for attracting FDI, where tax breaks and other benefits (including de facto labour law exemptions) accrue to those companies that invest and establish production sites in such zones. In this context, Busse and Spielman (2006) find that the concentration of females in export-oriented industries in special economic zones can reduce bargaining power and result in lower wages and employment opportunities than in the rest of the economy. Together with mobile export industries, we emphasize here deficient demand gaps which primarily hurt informal workers. For example, UNCTAD (2018) reports that DCs were hit hard by the trade downturn of 2015 and 2016, harder than developed countries. And in most cases, this disproportionately affected women, who were concentrated in smaller subcontracting firms2. From a macroeconomic perspective, asymmetrical distributive effects resulting from structural heterogeneity are intensified by highly unstable economic activity in an export-led strategy. This means that women’s subordination in informal and vulnerable employment is dependent on the prevailing level and structure of global demand (Seguino, 2017). In this setting, the high and persistent level of vulnerabilities over time is a reflection of underlying structural development issues highlighted by neo-structuralists (Bárcena & Prado, 2016). Feminist economists of trade supplement the analysis by arguing that: “Governments may change policy if they realize that reliance on the cheap labor of women as the main source of competitive advantage in the lower tiers of global production systems has disadvantages for the national economy.” (Elson et al., 2007, p. 47)

23The feminization of employment is at the heart of companies’ ability to mitigate price-based competition and demand-driven shocks. Just as increased international competition has tended to push wages down, so the weak bargaining power of women in the segmented labour markets leads to a “race to the bottom” that compromises improvements in working conditions and economic empowerment. Concerns about informality among women employed in export-oriented sectors have raised questions about a country’s resilience to macroeconomic shocks, not growth in itself (Seguino, 2017). From a theoretical perspective, the results point to a number of interesting mechanisms that need to be considered in order to further our understanding of the linkages between trade and gender in DCs. From an empirical perspective, most studies that have examined the relationship have produced diverse results, while the evidence remains inconclusive. The limited empirical evidence that is available suggests that the causal mechanisms depend on different methodologies and on a number of country-specific characteristics such as technology, institutions, cross-sector differences in the reallocation of capital and labour and the related degree of capital mobility, trade policy and patterns of trade. This suggests a need for further research on macro-level effects of gender inequalities, from either theoretical or empirical perspectives.

2. On gender and export-led strategies in Asia

2.1. Some stylized facts on the Asian latecomers

  • 3 Labor force participation rate is the proportion of the population ages 15 and older that is econom (...)

24There are various ways of measuring gender inequality. From the macroeconomist´s perspective, the most common way is through the gender wage gap, followed by the female employment share. The gender wage gap compares the relative wages of women and men, while the female employment share compares relative LFPRs3. This section focuses on the latter by presenting descriptive statistics with a view to determining firstly, whether export-led industrialization leads to the increased feminization of the labour force, and secondly, if there is something special about the Asian exporter countries.

Figure 1.a. Exports of manufactures as % of merchandise exports, selected groups (1990-2015)

Figure 1.a. Exports of manufactures as % of merchandise exports, selected groups (1990-2015)

Note: LMIs are the Low- and Middle-Income countries according to the World Bank classification

Source: WDI Database (World Bank)

Figure 1.b. Exports of manufactures as % of merchandise exports, NICs (1990-2015)

Figure 1.b. Exports of manufactures as % of merchandise exports, NICs (1990-2015)

Note: *First-tier NICs for the period (1967-1992)

Source: WDI Database (World Bank)

25The early experiences of the East Asian NICs focused attention on gender as a development-relevant characteristic (Seguino, 1997, 2000). In the literature, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan belong to the first wave, while Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand are the second-tier NICs. To get a comparative perspective across time and across countries in the region, we will compare this wave to the most recently emerged countries that are potential candidates for a third wave, namely China, India and Viet Nam.

26To frame our analysis, an initial set of figures is used to examine the correlation between trade, FDI and a number of macroeconomic variables (Figures 1.a. and 1.b.).The rationale behind this is that gender gaps affect the macroeconomy (influencing exports, investment and the balance of payments) and conversely, macro-level factors have implications for gender inequality. As shown by Dinh and Tran (2014), all the figures support the well-known export-investment nexus that explains the successive waves of rapid industrialization in East Asia. In the specific case of the Asian latecomers, foreign investment is a key vehicle for this connection between exports and investment. The strongest effects of a potential FDI-export nexus are supposed to be in the manufacturing sector, where foreign-invested enterprises develop production networks and supply chains that increase trade. Consequently, there is a positive correlation between FDI and (manufactured) exports, between FDI and domestic investment and between the size of the manufacturing sector and the export-to-GDP ratio in Asia. In particular, the export-to-GDP ratio as well as the investment-to-GDP ratio is highest in the transition and developing countries of Asia that also have the largest FDI inflows and manufacturing sectors. However, the same is not true in the other developing regions, where the export orientation of foreign-invested firms is less clear-cut than expected. While the share of exports of manufactures in total merchandise exports for all Low and Middle Income countries (LMIs) was 66.7% in 2015, it reached 90% in East Asia and Pacific (Figure 1.a.). Interestingly, China and Viet Nam follows the same trend than South Korea and Singapore respectively, when they were engaged in their export-oriented industralization path in the mid-1960s (Figure 1.b.).

Figure 2.a. Ratio of female to male LFPR in %, selected groups (1990-2018)

Figure 2.a. Ratio of female to male LFPR in %, selected groups (1990-2018)

Source: WDI Database (World Bank)

Figure 2.b. Ratio of female to male LFPR in %, NICs (1990-2018)

Figure 2.b. Ratio of female to male LFPR in %, NICs (1990-2018)

Source: WDI Database (World Bank)

  • 4 Unless otherwise mentioned, most data are extracted from the World Bank’s World Development Indicat (...)

27During the past two decades, the trend in participation rates for both men and women has been downward across the world: from 80% and 51.4% respectively in 1990, the rates declined to 75% and 48.5% respectively in 20184. Figures 2.a. and 2.b depict the gender employment gap which consists here in dividing female LFPR by male LFPR. An upward trend means that the gap has narrowed, as illustrated by Latin America (Figure 2.a.). In the latter case, the improvement was driven by a steady decline in the male participation rate combined with an increase in the share of women entering the labour force (ILO, 2017; UNCTAD, 2017). But in spite of economic and social improvements with a rapid recovery from the effects of the global financial crisis, most Latin American and Caribbean societies still face profound levels of inequality which reflect the concentration in income and wealth and the striking production heterogeneity (Bárcena & Prado, 2016).

  • 5 In percentage of female population aged 15+.

28Women’s employment is first related to structural change through a feminization U pattern, which reflects the development process where female LFP first declines then rises once a certain level of development is reached (UNCTAD, 2017). In short, the sectoral distribution of production over time is the driver of higher female LFP in DCs, as low-productivity activities and traditional work decline to the benefit of new opportunities in modern industries. In line with the U-curve, the largest ratio of female to male participation rates is in emerging countries (here, East Asia and the Pacific) and those in the first stage of development (Sub-Saharan Africa, Figure 2.a.). In the latter region, it has been a result of male rates falling more sharply than those of their female counterparts. Moreover, it reflects both a prevalence of poverty and a lack of access to social protection. In East and South Asia, the average rate of female LFP was respectively 59.7% and 28.3% in 2018, but it ranged from 19.5% in Afghanistan to 74.4% in Viet Nam5. That women fuel the growth in labour force allows Viet Nam to record the highest ratio of female to male LFPR (Figure 2.b.). In the period 1995-2015, East Asia experienced the largest decline (of more than 30 percentage points) in the share of working women in the agricultural sector (ILO, 2016).

29But the U-shaped curve cannot explain the vastly different levels of female participation across countries. According to the World Bank (2012), since the 1980s, female LFP at each level of income has increased sharply over time, meaning that more women are now engaging in economic activity outside the home than ever before. Thus, the U-shaped curve has shifted upwards. Among the main reasons is the faster growth rates achieved by DCs, which leads to job creation and more economic opportunities. But another “pull” factor for feminization is the increased demand for women workers with export growth. Bouteiller and Fouquin (2001) provide evidence that strong export-oriented growth in East Asia has helped to increase the share of women workers over the last 50 years. In 1970, women made up 26% – 31% of the labor force in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. By 1995, women’s share in the labor force had risen to between 37% and 40% in those countries. Therefore, East Asian countries expanded their share of world exports of manufacturing in the same period in which the female share of employment was rising. Women’s access to jobs appears then weaker where exports are dominated by natural resource and agricultural products. A comprehensive set of empirical studies have provided evidence of this positive effect of export growth on female LFPR, especially in labour-abundant, semi-industrialized countries. Female workers are largely concentrated in well-known economic sectors such as textile and apparel, small electronics, agriculture and services and constitute up to 80% of the export manufacturing workforce in some DCs (ILO, 2016).

30Our first figures are consistent with Standing’s prediction (1989) concerning the feminization of employment in export-oriented economies. But two concerns are raised here. First, do the Asian exporter countries outperform the other DCs in these respects? Second, what happens when an export-oriented economy moves up the industrial ladder to more capital-intensive production? Does women’s share in manufacturing employment decline?

31As mentioned in Section 2, one of the drawbacks of existing studies in gender economics is the focus on micro-level factors, thereby missing the important role of macro-level linkages. The rising percentage of employment in manufacturing for the second-tier NICs was favoured by two developments from the mid-1980s: first, currency appreciation in the first-tier NICS following the Plaza Accord and, second, the tightening of their labour market which triggered a rise in labour costs. Both developments had the effect of pushing the first wave of FDI into Southeast Asia (notably Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand) and shifted away labour-intensive manufacturing employment which was predominantly female. But the ensuing boom in the latter countries (while their low wages served as additional attraction for FDI) occurred in a specific international context, that is: the withdrawal of the General System of Preferences (GSP) privileges under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) from the first-tier NICS, and the expiration of the Multi-Fibre Arrangement (MFA) in 2005. Just as when Japan and the first-tier NICS adopted their relocation strategy following the Plaza Accord, the international fragmentation of production encouraged similar relocation of manufacturing capacities to China, India and Viet Nam in the late 1990s. Malaysia is in an intermediate position between the two first waves as its manufacturing sector began absorbing more labour earlier than the other two second-tier NICS of Indonesia and Thailand (Sundaram, 2009). In Malaysia, manufacturing’s share of total employment rose from 16% in 1980 to a peak of 23.3% in 1993, before declining to 20.3% in 2006. During this period, the female share of manufacturing workers rose from 38.2% in 1980 to a peak of 47.6% in 1990, before declining to 39% in 2006. While the female proportion of manufacturing workers peaked at different times in Malaysia (1990) and Indonesia (1993), the share of women in manufacturing continued to rise in Thailand from the 1980s, until the eve of the global financial crisis in 2007. Therefore, there appears to have been a general regional pattern of increased female employment in manufacturing during the period of early rapid labour-intensive industrialization, probably accelerated by the availability of export markets. As this early phase is more concerned with labour costs, recruiting women probably enabled employers to build their competitive advantage.

32Theories of dual or segmented labour markets posit the existence of two technologically and institution­ally distinct labour markets: the core and peripheral sectors (UNCTAD, 2017). While macroeconomic conditions help determine the availability of “good” jobs in the core sector (the level of demand and a country’s trade and investment relations with the rest of the world), manufacturing employers (who are governed by market competition and the profit motive) may perpetuate “stereotypes” regarding the skills required that channel women into jobs in the peripheral labour market. For example, female workers are said to be docile, hard-working and “ […] to have ‘nimble’ fingers making them uniquely qualified for jobs in assembly operations” (UNCTAD, 2017, p. 72). All this makes women more suited to sectors or occupations where labour constitutes a large proportion of total productions costs.

33Table 1. shows employment in industry and the ratio of women’s concentration in industrial employment to that of men in recent years. The first indicator defines the core sector because workers in the industrial sector typically have higher wages, and offer more opportunity for training and job-related benefits than agricultural work and service sector jobs (Seguino, 2017). Under an accelerated industrialization, Viet Nam doubled the share of industrial employment between 2000 and 2018. And within our country sample, only two countries rose their relative share of women in industrial employment over the period: namely, India and Viet Nam.

Table 1. Employment in industry and relative concentration of women in industrial employment (%, 2000 and 2018)

Employment in industry

(in % of total employment)

Relative concentration of women in industrial employment (%)

2000

2018

2000

2018

Indonesia

17,4

22

79

64,6

Malaysia

32,2

27,3

85

61,2

Philippines

16,2

18,3

73,6

41,4

Thailand

19

23,6

84,5

76,8

China

24,3

28,6

118,3

97,8

India

16,3

24,7

65

71,2

Viet Nam

12,4

25,8

69,1

73

Lower-middle income

16,2

22,1

67,8

62,7

Upper-middle income

24,3

26,7

97,5

79,3

Source: constructed from ILOSTAT database

34However, the global financial crisis affected differently male and female-dominated sectors located in different places around the globe, and had ultimately different gender and regional impacts. Therefore, recent studies have stressed the importance of integrating a gender perspective into the debates to accurate understanding of the sources of economic growth and the macro-economy at large (Elias & Roberts, 2018). The UNCTAD (2017) reports that the overall availability of industrial jobs has declined in DCs and, as a result, women’s access to that employment has become more restricted. DCs of East Asia seem to be more resilient to external shocks than those of other regions, as their manufacturing exporters are highly competitive and therefore were better able to weather the unfavorable economic environment (UNCTAD, 2018). One factor that affords insight into the underlying causes is an increase in women’s employment rates at the same time as men’s employment rates fell. Figure 3. shows that a large number of Asian DCs are in the “gender conflictive” quadrant (upper left), meaning that improvements for women may have been occurring at the expense of men. In fact, this is partly because men’s employment has declined in response to slow growth, i.e. global stagnation and unemployment “pushed” women to take jobs in order to maintain family incomes. However, due to their increased likelihood of being engaged in informal employment or other vulnerable employment statuses (the “periphery”), women are indirectly impacted by downturns and reversals in the macroeconomic environment.

35Therefore, the first concern is a downward trend in participation rates for both men and women due to the prevailing conditions in global demand. The Southeast Asian economies (starting with higher ratios) function better than the other DCs because export-oriented manufacturing employment has been higher. Because the overall state of their economy was better than in the rest of the world (even though their growth rates declined), and because of their trajectories of structural change and development (new opportunities in higher-productivity sectors), the Asian dual or segmented labour markets were more resilient to adverse external shocks.

Figure 3. Changes in women’s to men’s employment rates versus men’s employment rates by developing regions (1991-2014)

Figure 3. Changes in women’s to men’s employment rates versus men’s employment rates by developing regions (1991-2014)

Source: UNTAD (2017)

36Our second concern deals with the relationship between capital investment and female LFP. On the one hand, women are thought to complement machines so that increased capital intensity should increase the demand for female workers (Pham, 2009). But on the other hand, the modernization process engages the country in a productivity growth which should lead to a “job squeeze” at the expense of women. Tejani and Milberg (2016) highlighted the trend of “defeminization” in the manufacturing sector in middle-income countries as the capital intensity of production rises. However, our updated data on the Asian latecomers are at odds with the view of the authors (Table 1.). In the case of Viet Nam, women’s relative concentration in industry has been increasing at the same time that the country’s manufactured exports and FDI inflows have been rising (Figure 1.b.).

37An alternative story may explain the phenomenon here. From a structuralist perspective, women are crowded out of the core activities (“good” jobs in the formal sector) and pushed into peripherical jobs as a means to increase firm profitability. Gender segregation or stratification is commonly measured by summing the concentration of women relative to men in a sector or occupation. Seguino (1997) suggests that Korean chaebols ensured a cheap labour supply that promotes export sales by limiting women’s job opportunities and by segregating them in the labour-intensive industries, leading to economic rewards form the state in return for meeting export targets. Besides labour market influences, she finds that the role of the state, the genderised division of labour in corporate culture, the differences in capital mobility influence women’s relative bargaining power in pay wages. Berik et al. (2004), examining the trade performance of South Korea and Taiwan between 1980 and 1990, find that competition from trade is positively associated with wage discrimination against women.

Table 2. Gender employment gap across status in employment categories (%, 2000 and 2018)

2000

2018

1. Employees

Self employment

1. Employees

Self employment

2.

3.

4.

2.

3.

4.

Indonesia

78,9

42,4

59,5

458,7

78,9

39,8

87,2

435,9

Malaysia

104,7

20,2

57,7

418,9

98,4

31,5

96,0

332,0

Philippines

100,2

41,7

88,5

179,0

92,9

56,2

105,0

224,6

Thailand

96,8

37,1

51,0

243,3

99,2

36,4

76,7

203,1

China

83,3

30,3

69,2

277,5

94,2

44,0

77,4

327,4

India

52,4

32,2

82,3

269,7

85,9

28,6

79,6

330,7

Viet Nam

69,8

55,6

54,1

250,2

79,5

39,6

101,4

213,9

Lower-middle income

78,1

40,9

74,3

274,9

88,4

42,6

79,5

306,4

Upper-middle income

88,5

32,0

72,0

283,8

97,7

43,7

78,5

319,7

2. Employers

3. Own-account workers

4. Contributing family workers

Source. Ratios of women to men constructed from ILOSTAT database

38Another picture could be drawn by looking at the ratios of women to men across employment statuses. Table 2. presents data on the distribution of the workforce, based on the 1993 International Classification by Status in Employment (ICSE-93). The classification by status in employment refers to inherent characteristics of the jobs held by the employed population. The ICSE-93 classifies jobs into five main categories, which can be grouped under two major types of jobs: paid employment (employees) and self-employment (employers, own-account workers, contributing family workers and members of producers’ cooperatives)6.

39A high proportion of wage and salaried workers in a country can signify advanced economic development. In 2018, we can see that Indonesia and Viet Nam lagged behind the other countries in women’s access to paid employment jobs. But rapid growth in India and Viet Nam has moved women out of unpaid into paid jobs (+13.5 and +10 percentage points respectively between 2000 and 2018). If, on the other hand, the proportion of own- account workers (self-employed without hired employees) or contributing family workers (women in households where other members engage in self-employment, specifically in running a family business or in farming), is sizeable, it may be an indication of a poor development, and low growth in the formal economy. Therefore, the two statuses are summed to create a classification of vulnerable employment. Again, we can see in Table 2. that women are overrepresented in contributing family workers across middle-income countries. In the specific case of Viet Nam, the ratio of women to men in own-account workers category almost doubled between 2000 and 2018. Gender segregation by sector can add to gender segregation by occupational group to reflect gender gaps and perpetuate discriminatory norms (Braunstein, 2012).

40The indicator of status in employment is strongly linked to the employment-by-economic activity indicator (Table 1.). With economic growth, one would expect to see a shift in employment from the agricultural to the industry and services sectors, which, in turn, would be reflected in an increase in the number of wage and salaried workers. Countries that show falling proportions of either the share of own-account workers or contributing family workers, and a complementary rise in the share of employees, accompany the move from a low-income situation to a higher-income situation with “good” job growth. Although the Asian latecomers clearly outperform the other DCs in the share of employees (Figure 4.), we can see also that the burden of vulnerable employment continues to fall heavily on women in the middle-income countries (Table 2.).

Figure 4. Distribution of the workforce by status in employment (2000-2018)

Figure 4. Distribution of the workforce by status in employment (2000-2018)

Indonesia

Viet Nam

Source: ILOSTAT

41Because female workers are considered to be unskilled and untrained, researchers have sometimes used schooling and health to study gender inequality when employment and wage data for men and women is not available. However, more women than ever before are literate; gender now explains very little of the remaining inequality in school enrollment (World Bank, 2012). Overall improvements in enrollments tend to reduce gender disparities in education and skills and this should generate new employment opportunities for women. In the World Bank report, it is not clear what prevents women from benefiting from upgrading and shifting production towards skill-intensive goods. As noted on p. 270: “One possible explanation is that significant differences still exist between men and women in the content of their education and their non-formal skills, including sector-specific experience and access to on-the job training” (World Bank, 2012). Female LFPR may change with education level but education equality is not sufficient to narrow the gender gap in employment. All this reinforces our approach by suggesting there are underlying factors that constrain women’s access to “good” jobs once they are in the labour market. Job segregation by gender interacts with structural constraints to push women into low value-added segments of production, informal forms of work with limited opportunities for skills development.

42This leads us to address technology upgrading and the “defeminization” of employment in the middle-income trap. The rationale for this argument is that the decline in women’s relative concentration with increased capital intensity may be due to the changing structure of the industrial sector itself, as countries upgrade to more skill-intensive or technologically sophisticated production and away from labour-intensive production. To address the issue at an aggregate level, UNCTAD (2017) investigated the impact of structural transformation and technological change in an econometric analysis of cross-country, time series data. A significant negative association found between capital intensity and women’s relative concentration in industrial employ­ment suggests a gender “asymmetry” in the employment costs of technological change. Strikingly, the result remains robust even when export-led growth strategies are taken into account, while the gender gap in education is not significant. In short, as production becomes more capital-intensive, women’s relative access to industrial sector jobs declines, indicating that “technological change is particularly problematic for women, even after controlling for gender differences in education” (UNCTAD, 2017, p. 84). However, from a combined structuralist and feminist perspective, it would be argued that this form of crowding out is more the result of stratification (stemming from institutional practices and discriminatory norms) designed to benefit firms and male workers than of supply conditions (such as women’s skills or industry upgrading). Unfortunately, further investigation requires a microeconomic perspective.

43All in all, the above figures indicate that export-led growth strategies in the Asian latecomers have moved women into non-agricultural activities. However, because manufacturing employers are submitted to the internationalization of production, women are disproportionately excluded from “good” jobs (although their relative share of paid jobs has increased) and they are channeled into work that is less remunerative and secure. With increased competitive pressures, women workers are incorporated into the global production systems as factory workers and also as subcontracted outworkers who produce in small workshops or their own homes (Balakrishnan, 2002). This picture is the outcome of what Rai (2018) resumes by the concept of “gendered global value chains”, where the competitive advantage of the local subcontracted firms depends greatly on women’s lower pay and poorer conditions. Using cross-country data or country-specific data provides different opportunities to understand the phenomenon, although it is difficult to derive policy-relevant conclusions beyond the specific country concerned. In the next section, we carry out a descriptive analysis of the case of Viet Nam in order to obtain deeper insights at the country level.

2.2. Feminization in the emerging Viet Nam

44The transition process to a market economy launched with Doi Moi (“Renewal”) enabled Viet Nam to shift from being one of the poorest countries in the world (with per capita GDP of current USD 98 in 1990) to a lower-middle income (LMI) country by 2010. Viet Nam’s economy grew at an average annual rate of 5.4% from 1990 to 2015 (with a peak of 7.7% in 1995), ranking the country second in terms of economic growth after China in the Developing Asia and putting above the average rate for the whole developing world. Additionally, the poverty rate was reduced from 58% in 1993 to 12 % in 2014.

45Integration has been the key driver of Viet Nam’s economic and social development. In the mid-1990s, the country was going through a far-reaching transformation from an inward-looking planned economy to one that is globalized and market-based. The country formally completed WTO accession in late 2006, thereby bringing to a successful conclusion its lengthy efforts to integrate the national economy into global markets. These changes have had implications for trade and investment flows: exports and imports as a share of GDP increased tenfold from 1988 to 2008, reaching 89% in 2015. Over the period 1995-2015, average growth rates of exports and imports were 15.5 % and 14.2 % respectively. At the same time, the country ranked fourth in hosting FDI within the ASEAN, far behind Singapore and Thailand, but on a similar level with Malaysia.

Table 3. Global socio-economic indicators for Viet Nam (%)

Indicators

1991

2018

Rural population (% of total population)

79,4

64,1

Employment in agriculture (% of total employment)

75,1

39,6

Employment in industry

total (% of total employment)

female (% of female employment)

(% of total employment)

female (% of female employment)

9,1

7,8

25,3

21,1

Wage and salaried workers

male (% of males employed)

female (% of females employed)

male (% of males employed)

female (% of females employed)

17,5

12,3

46,4

35,9

Self-employed workers

male (% of males employed)

female (% of females employed)

male (% of males employed)

female (% of females employed)

82,5

87,6

53,5

64,1

Of which:

Contributing family workers

male (% of males employed)

female (% of females employed)

male (% of males employed)

female (% of females employed)

35,1

62,4

10,3

21,9

Own-account workers

male (% of males employed)

female (% of females employed)

male (% of males employed)

female (% of females employed)

46,3

24,7

39,4

40,3

Vulnerable employment

male (% of males employed)

female (% of female employment)

male (% of males employed)

female (% of female employment)

81,5

87,2

49,8

62,2

Source. Gender Statistics and WDI Database (World Bank)

46Despite this generally good macroeconomic performance, three striking features are noticeable in the current trends. Firstly, while participation to the world economy has led to fast economic growth and poverty reduction in absolute terms, there is concern about growing inequality in Viet Nam. According to the WDI dataset, the Gini coefficient has been fairly stable at around 0.35. However, a new picture emerging from the last household surveys suggests that income inequality is rising, while findings from a qualitative study show that the perceptions of inequality have risen over the last five years. This is partly explained by employment status and the increased absorption of the labour force by the industrial sector (Table 3). Industrialization in Viet Nam has moved people out of agricultural activities into paid employment jobs in industry and services. But this process has been gender biased: the ratios of women to men in employees narrowed between 1991 and 2018, but it widened in the other two categories. In 2018, the gap was respectively 77.4%, 120 % and 124.9% in paid employment, self-employment and vulnerable employment across sectors. The proportion of own-account workers in female total employment even rose under the period considered, from 24.7% in 1991 to 40.3% in 2018.

  • 7 “Even it up, how to tackle inequality in Viet Nam”, Vietnam News (Vietnam News Agency), January 12, (...)
  • 8 With an increase in maternity leave from four to six months, for example, the approval of the 2012 (...)

47Secondly, the size of the labour force grew from about 33 million in 1990 to 58 million in 2018 with an increased feminization of the labour force. The latter is high (at around 48% of total labour force) and the female LFPR has been steadily above 72 %, ranking Viet Nam 11th out of 134 countries in the developing world. But in a recent briefing paper, Oxfam states that women account for a huge share of the workforce in labour-intensive industries in Viet Nam: 78.5% in footwear and textiles, 66.8% in food manufacturing and processing and 59.2% in porcelain and glass7. Many women work on production lines in industrial zones in the garment or leather industries, which are all female-intensive industries. According to the NGO, Viet Nam has had a relatively better record than many countries in the world when it comes to recognizing and protecting women’s rights, and things have improved even more, with lawmakers approving a number of preferential policies for female workers8. However, many companies have asked to cut some benefits for female workers in order to avoid negative impacts on their businesses.

48Lastly, statistics on the informal economy are key to obtain a clear idea of the contributions of all workers, women in particular, to the economy. Indeed, the informal economy has been considered as

[…] the fallback position for women who are excluded from paid employment. [...] The dominant aspect of the informal economy is self-employment. It is an important source of livelihood for women in the developing world, especially in those areas where cultural norms bar them from work outside the home or where, because of conflict with household responsibilities, they cannot undertake regular employee working hours.9

49Workers in the informal economy comprise all workers of the informal sector and informal workers outside the informal sector. Employment in the informal sector comprises all persons who, during a given reference period, were employed in at least one informal sector enterprise, irrespective of their status in employment and whether it was their main or a secondary job. Informal employment outside of the informal sector comprises persons who in their main or secondary jobs were own-account; contributing family workers; and employees holding informal jobs, whether employed by formal sector enterprises, informal sector enterprises, or as paid domestic workers by households. Labour Force Surveys (LFS) are typically the preferred source of information on the informal economy.

Table 4. Relative concentration of women in the informal economy, Viet Nam (%)

as a % of total employment in non-agricultural activities

Relative concentration of women (%)

Informal employment

Employment outside the formal sector

Informal employment

Employment outside the formal sector

2007

65,6

51,3

97,3

103,5

2009

65,9

50,7

94,7

102,6

2013

62,2

47,3

92,6

97,0

2014

60,6

45,3

92,0

96,3

2015

57,1

37,9

88,4

94,6

2016

56,3

37,6

87,8

92,4

2017

56,1

38,0

85,6

88,0

Source. ILOSTAT database from labour force surveys

50ILOSTAT features statistics on the share of employed persons in the informal sector and the share of informal employment outside the informal sector in total employment, disaggregated by sex and presented separately for the total economy and non-agricultural activities (Table 4). Unsurprisingly, informal employment tends to decline with economic development, but the ratio of women to men remains persistent in Viet Nam. So, women are still over-represented in the informal sector and household production. The structuralists emphasize informal jobs in formal enterprises and the interdependence between the two sectors in production relationships. Because less remunerative, women’s segregation in employment outside the formal sector can subordinate local workers and micro-firms to large manufacturing employers under their cost-reducing strategies.

  • 10 The data compiled here are extracted form a research work in progress which was presented at the 16(...)

51The recent improvement in Viet Nam’s overall competiveness (ranked 55th out of 140 countries in the Global Competitiveness Index 2017/18 provided by the World Economic Forum) leads us to wonder if there is any connection between the three trends and the country’s export-led growth. To get a deeper insight through a gender lens, the Viet Nam enterprise surveys provide information on the share of female labour across firms within industries or specific activities. The dataset is collected by Viet Nam’s General Statistics Office (GSO) and its provincial counterparts from 2000 to 2012. Industry classification changed in 2006, so we concord the industry code of year 2006 and year 2007 with codes for 2003 and 2004.10

  • 11 The average total of workers is calculated by dividing the sum of workers at the beginning and the (...)

52Figures for the female ratio in different categories of firm are presented in Table 5. and Figure 5. to see if there is a pattern to female labour intensity by sector, export orientation, ownership or by firm size over time. We define here the female ratio as the average share of female workers in the average total of workers in a firm11. For the classification of industries, Eurostat’s Statistical Classification of Economic Activities in the European Community (NACE Rev. 2) is used. There are 14 groups of manufacturing classified by technological intensity, which enables us to draw a picture of the various groups (from low- to high-technology levels). However, firm-level data of this kind has two drawbacks. First, wage workers in the formal economy (FDI firms, state-owned and domestic private enterprises – which are the objects of the enterprise census) account for only about 20% of the total labour force in Viet Nam. But as aforementioned, the burden of employment outside the formal sector is borne by women. Second, we do not have information on wages, although information on the gender composition of the total labour force across firms is available.

53In order to fill the gap, two other sources are able to provide statistical information on the female LFPR in Viet Nam (although with some discrepancies in estimation): the Viet Nam Living Standards Survey (VLSS) before 2002, and the Viet Nam Household and Living Standards Survey (VHLSS) from 2002 onwards. Both are nationally representative and are conducted every two years. Besides that, the Labour Force Survey (LFS) could be more reliable as it is an annual survey with bigger samples (more than 500,000 observations per year). Unfortunately, it has only been available since 2007 and there is no panel data on individuals in the LFS.

54Both household and firm surveys enable us to draw a micro-level picture of the feminization of employment in Viet Nam’s development strategy. In addition, we can examine gender-disaggregated employment and earnings in export-oriented versus domestic market-oriented production. As expected, female workers are predominant in export-oriented industries and are less remunerated than their male counterparts (Table 5).

Table 5. Gender composition of different groups in Viet Nam (%).

1998

2014

Total

Female

Male

Total

Female

Male

Working population aged 15-65

86,9

(100)

86,1

(51,76)

87,78

(48,24)

81,6

(100)

78,74

(51,76)

84,57

(48,24)

In export oriented industries

7,84

(100)

8,71

(57,49)

6,91

(42,51)

11,13

(100)

14,17

(62,69)

8,18

(37,31)

In non-export oriented industries

100

51,27

48,73

100

47,56

52,44

Wage and salaried workers in working population aged 15-65

19,24

14,83

23,98

42,18

36,08

48,02

In export oriented industries

18,56

(100)

27,39

(58,83)

12,71

(41,17)

19,14

(100)

29,53

(64,98)

11,58

(35,02)

In non-export oriented industries

100

35,56

64,44

100

36,72

63,28

Average income of wage workers (monthly 1000 VND):

570,03

492,59

621,4

51606,35

48491,13

53873,9

In export oriented industries

578,53

508,65

678,37

46026,48

43169,91

51326,62

Source. Constructed from household and firm surveys (General Statistics Office, Viet Nam)

55Some figures for the female ratio in firms that differ with respect to ownerships, size and groups of industries are also presented in Figure 5.There are three striking features in the current trends for Viet Nam. Firstly, production is becoming feminized, as evidenced by the increasing female/male ratios over time across all industries. Secondly, larger firms are more female-intensive (which is evidenced by the positive correlation between firm size and the female/male ratios across all industries).

56A third interesting result is that, in relative terms, women are hired mainly by foreign-owned enterprises, and the female LFPR is high in both low and high-tech manufacturing. A correlation can be drawn between the two facts: if larger firms are the ones that have machines, then it stands to reason that they will hire more women relative to smaller firms. Moreover, if FDI is the source of capital/machines, then it is also likely to be the case that FDI firms will hire more women because many of the work tasks in larger firms require not brawn but brain. If the whole story above holds, it will be consistent with an increase in demand for female labour with increased trade liberalization and FDI. Export activities tend to be more specialized and FDI will bring capital investments to complement the female labour. Thus female employment in the export/FDI sector will rise in the next few years as a corollary of increased capital accumulation (Sauré & Zoabi, 2014).

57However, another very interesting finding from Viet Nam’s microeconomic data is the low correlation between capital intensity and female workforce, which is at odds with the conventional wisdom. In short, female labour employment is correlated not with the amount of a firm’s capital but rather – and robustly so with the size of its workforce; this is especially true for FDI firms. Thus there is no clear relationship in the data between female LFP and capital. This in itself is interesting, since the complementarity between the two variables is the basis for many of the models in the conventional literature. According to the World Bank (2012), for example:

The segregation of women seems to arise as exporting firms move up the value chain through recapitalization and retooling of workers, both normally associated with higher productivity and better wages. (p. 271)

Figure 5.a The relationship between the female ratio, ownership and firm size in Viet Nam (2000-2015) – Overall Manufacturing Industries

Figure 5.a The relationship between the female ratio, ownership and firm size in Viet Nam (2000-2015) – Overall Manufacturing Industries

Source. Constructed from enterprise surveys (General Statistics Office, Viet Nam)

Figure 5.b. The relationship between the female ratio, ownership and firm size in Viet Nam (2000-2015) – Low Technology

Figure 5.b. The relationship between the female ratio, ownership and firm size in Viet Nam (2000-2015) – Low Technology

Source. Constructed from enterprise surveys (General Statistics Office, Viet Nam)

Figure 5.c. The relationship between the female ratio, ownership and firm size in Viet Nam (2000-2015) – Medium High Technology

Figure 5.c. The relationship between the female ratio, ownership and firm size in Viet Nam (2000-2015) – Medium High Technology

Source. Constructed from enterprise surveys (General Statistics Office, Viet Nam)

Figure 5.d. The relationship between the female ratio, ownership and firm size in Viet Nam (2000-2015) – High Technology

Figure 5.d. The relationship between the female ratio, ownership and firm size in Viet Nam (2000-2015) – High Technology

Source. Constructed from enterprise surveys (General Statistics Office, Viet Nam)

58We argue here that there are two alternative mechanisms behind the increased feminization of employment in FDI firms. The first is an economies of scale story driven by fixed costs. That is, if multinational firms are able to access the world market, the scale of production can be large and the supply chain can get much longer. Each segment in the value chain will then produce a smaller piece of the final product and it is that attracts the foreign capital for the very specialized jobs that the multinationals offer. This phenomenon could be the reason why FDI firms are more female intensive (see Pham, 2009). Non-FDI firms, in contrast, do not have access to the larger export markets and thus the tasks done by their workers are not as specialized because they require a critical mass of demand for manufactures. In sum, FDI firms that are part of a long GVC producing for the big world consumer markets employ more women for more standardized work (or for the specific tasks they perform). This story relies on the literature covering trade in tasks, where the degree of division of labour is constrained by the extent of the market.

59The second mechanism could be that organizational efficiency is the factor limiting the scale of firms in DCs and hence the division of labour and employment of women. Here the hypothesis is that FDI firms, which are mainly internationally engaged, are better able to produce on a large scale and therefore employ more workers and put in place a finer division of labour. Thus foreign firms’ greater organizational efficiency facilitates the feminization of employment in export activities. Seguino and Grown (2006) state that women tend to be disproportionately concentrated in industries where vertical FDI firms dominate because their goal is to take advantage of differences in money costs among countries, concentrating labor-intensive activities in those countries with lower labor costs. New empirical evidence from developing country firms shows that internationally engaged firms tend to employ a higher proportion of women workers (Shepherd and Stone, 2017). Of particular note is that the combination of importing, exporting, and being foreign invested all together is associated with a higher proportion of women in the workforce.

60Both mechanisms are concerned with differences in market orientation and the consequent differences in corporate strategies. This pattern is interesting in that it may provide evidence for one theory (that capital complements female labour and substitutes for male labour) over another (that is, the division of labour depends on organizational scale and market size). Which theory applies (capital/women complementarity vs economies of scale) has very important implications for Viet Nam’s development. The first theory is very conventional. It implies that the driver is capital and hence saving and investment (foreign and domestic). The second theory is about economies of scale, as well as technological and market specifications. In line with the neo-structuralist approach, demand has an impact on money costs (i.e. competitive advantage) through its impact on dynamic economies of scale. This theory would imply that female labour participation is limited by a developing country’s access to export markets, aggregate demand and the international supply chain.

Conclusion and prospects

61In September 2015, the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To ensure that the next 15 years see continued improvement in the developing world, investigations of the linkage between gender inequality, trade integration and growth should be a priority for research in development economics in the coming years. There is a growing body of evidence and experience linking gender awareness in policies to equitable, efficient and sustainable outcomes in development. However, these links are still not widely understood nor have these lessons been fully taken on board by national policymakers. Nowadays, almost every single country in the world has adopted trade and FDI policies or is in the process of integrating its economy into globalized markets. However, globalization has restructured economic power at different levels and one of the outcomes is the increased participation of female workers as export industries and FDI grow in the DCs.

62The gender aspects of trade are still under-researched in the academic literature. Consequently, our present study combines structuralist development macroeconomics and feminist economics of trade with the aim of highlighting the interactions at work. As UNCTAD (2017) noted:

The macroeconomy is often perceived as a “gender-neutral” space; but gender matters for macroeconomic structures and outcomes. Different types of economic shocks or patterns of growth affect women and men differently [...]. This causality also works the other way, in that gender relations determine macroeconomic outcomes such as growth, trade imbalances and inflation. (p. 68)

Feminist analysis has shown how the different approaches to exercising power in different settings are interrelated and thus restrict spaces (Montano, 2016). The invisibility of gender relations obscures the subordination of women and the biases with which the issue is addressed from an economic perspective.

63According to the conventional wisdom, globalization is supposed to improve the conditions of women by creating manufacturing employment opportunities. But the export promotion strategy (in the presence of price-elastic international demand) is increasing the economic dualism in the labour market and in productive sectors within countries that have become embedded in complex subcontracting networks. By influencing macroeconomic outcomes, a country’s economic structure, as well as its social norms in job occupation and the institutional characteristics underlying an export oriented strategy, play an important role in gender relations. Insofar as trade integration allows TNCs to perpetuate price competition in the world market, it will help to perpetuate the underlying structure of gender inequality and limit the extent to which less powerful workforces and countries can benefit from trade.

64Against this background, our investigation has attempted to construct a series of comparative descriptive statistics, drawing first on a cross-country analysis of emerging economies in East and Southeast Asia before conducting a case study of contemporary Viet Nam to illustrate our analytical framework.

65By decomposing women’s labour force participation rate in different NICs from various perspectives, we show that the wider distributional impact of women’s participation in the labour force is fundamentally dependent on socioeconomic and cultural conditions, as well as the prevailing processes of technological and structural change. These processes in turn are affected by macroeconomic conditions and policy environment, which are shaped by globalization, trade specialization and output growth.

66In the case of Viet Nam, data extracted from the GSO surveys do not show a clear relationship between female labour force participation and capital. This in itself is interesting, since the complementarity versus substituability between the two variables is the basis for many of the models in the conventional literature. Instead, our descriptive statistics and scatter plots provide an alternative theory of feminization based on the idea of economies of scale, market access and export diversification. That production scale determines the feminization of employment could be a constraint in demand, which is in line with structuralist development economics. Both theories can be tested (albeit imperfectly) with panel enterprise data. Therefore our next step will be to run a series of regressions with panel enterprise data in order to find evidence for these theories.

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Notes

1 International trade has grown at a sluggish pace that has deteriorated considerably since 2015 (UNCTAD, 2018). Consequently, we will mainly use illustrative statistics up to 2015.

2 Vulnerable employment is defined by the ILO as a combination of “own account” and “contributory family worker” employment statuses, which are more insecure than “wage or salaried worker” status. Although vulnerable employment is not equivalent to informal employment, those who are in vulnerable employment are mostly informal workers and employers subject to market dynamics (Otobe, 2015, p. 3).

3 Labor force participation rate is the proportion of the population ages 15 and older that is economically active: either employed or unemployed. To favour international comparability, the working-age population is often defined as all persons aged 15 and older, but this may vary from country to country based on national laws and practices.

4 Unless otherwise mentioned, most data are extracted from the World Bank’s World Development Indicators (WDI) database.

5 In percentage of female population aged 15+.

6 For further details, refer to the indicator description on ILOSTAT: https://www.ilo.org/ilostat/

7 “Even it up, how to tackle inequality in Viet Nam”, Vietnam News (Vietnam News Agency), January 12, 2017.

8 With an increase in maternity leave from four to six months, for example, the approval of the 2012 Labour Law brought great relief and happiness to female workers across the country (Vietnam News dated on January 13, 2017).

9 For further details, refer to ILOSTAT: https://www.ilo.org/ilostat/

10 The data compiled here are extracted form a research work in progress which was presented at the 16th International Convention of the East Asian Economic Association, October 27-28, 2018 (National Taiwan University, Taipei). We would like to thank our co-authors, Van H. Pham and Vu H.D., for this part on Viet Nam.

11 The average total of workers is calculated by dividing the sum of workers at the beginning and the end of a single year. Put differently, the sum of workers at the beginning and the end of the year is divided by two to find the average number of workers.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1.a. Exports of manufactures as % of merchandise exports, selected groups (1990-2015)
Légende Note: LMIs are the Low- and Middle-Income countries according to the World Bank classification
Crédits Source: WDI Database (World Bank)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/regulation/docannexe/image/14589/img-1.png
Fichier image/png, 24k
Titre Figure 1.b. Exports of manufactures as % of merchandise exports, NICs (1990-2015)
Légende Note: *First-tier NICs for the period (1967-1992)
Crédits Source: WDI Database (World Bank)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/regulation/docannexe/image/14589/img-2.png
Fichier image/png, 131k
Titre Figure 2.a. Ratio of female to male LFPR in %, selected groups (1990-2018)
Crédits Source: WDI Database (World Bank)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/regulation/docannexe/image/14589/img-3.png
Fichier image/png, 29k
Titre Figure 2.b. Ratio of female to male LFPR in %, NICs (1990-2018)
Crédits Source: WDI Database (World Bank)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/regulation/docannexe/image/14589/img-4.png
Fichier image/png, 29k
Titre Figure 3. Changes in women’s to men’s employment rates versus men’s employment rates by developing regions (1991-2014)
Crédits Source: UNTAD (2017)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/regulation/docannexe/image/14589/img-5.png
Fichier image/png, 98k
Titre Figure 4. Distribution of the workforce by status in employment (2000-2018)
Légende Indonesia
URL http://journals.openedition.org/regulation/docannexe/image/14589/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 56k
Légende Malaysia
URL http://journals.openedition.org/regulation/docannexe/image/14589/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 56k
Légende Philippines
URL http://journals.openedition.org/regulation/docannexe/image/14589/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 52k
Légende Thailand
URL http://journals.openedition.org/regulation/docannexe/image/14589/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 52k
Légende China
URL http://journals.openedition.org/regulation/docannexe/image/14589/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 44k
Légende India
URL http://journals.openedition.org/regulation/docannexe/image/14589/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 52k
Légende Viet Nam
Crédits Source: ILOSTAT
URL http://journals.openedition.org/regulation/docannexe/image/14589/img-12.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 60k
Titre Figure 5.a The relationship between the female ratio, ownership and firm size in Viet Nam (2000-2015) – Overall Manufacturing Industries
URL http://journals.openedition.org/regulation/docannexe/image/14589/img-13.png
Fichier image/png, 122k
Crédits Source. Constructed from enterprise surveys (General Statistics Office, Viet Nam)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/regulation/docannexe/image/14589/img-14.png
Fichier image/png, 117k
Titre Figure 5.b. The relationship between the female ratio, ownership and firm size in Viet Nam (2000-2015) – Low Technology
URL http://journals.openedition.org/regulation/docannexe/image/14589/img-15.png
Fichier image/png, 115k
Crédits Source. Constructed from enterprise surveys (General Statistics Office, Viet Nam)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/regulation/docannexe/image/14589/img-16.png
Fichier image/png, 110k
Crédits Source. Constructed from enterprise surveys (General Statistics Office, Viet Nam)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/regulation/docannexe/image/14589/img-17.png
Fichier image/png, 121k
Titre Figure 5.d. The relationship between the female ratio, ownership and firm size in Viet Nam (2000-2015) – High Technology
URL http://journals.openedition.org/regulation/docannexe/image/14589/img-18.png
Fichier image/png, 124k
Crédits Source. Constructed from enterprise surveys (General Statistics Office, Viet Nam)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/regulation/docannexe/image/14589/img-19.png
Fichier image/png, 117k
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Thi Anh-Dao Tran, « The Feminization of Employment through Export-Led Strategies: Evidence from Viet Nam. », Revue de la régulation [En ligne], 25 | 1er semestre/spring 2019, mis en ligne le 06 juillet 2019, consulté le 18 juillet 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/regulation/14589 ; DOI : 10.4000/regulation.14589

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