Global Human Rights Defence

The Gender Wage Gap: An Exploration of The Wage Gap in China

The Gender Wage Gap: An Exploration of The Wage Gap in China
Gender wage disparities between men and women. Source: Ramage/Euronews, 2022.

Author: Jayantika Rao Tiruvaloor Viavoori

Department: Women’s Rights Team


The gender wage gap can be defined as “the average wage ratio of females to males” (Wang & Cheng, 2021). Despite the tremendous achievements of women in terms of education, the wage differential is based on gender in most countries. According to Norris and Kochhar (2019), although many countries have tried to initiate policies to attract female workers, only 50 percent of the women participate in the labour workforce compared to 80 percent of men. Many researchers blame discriminatory policies, attitudes, and cultural norms for low female participation. Women, especially in developing countries, are subjected to discrimination. They are often hired in the informal sector (unincorporated enterprises or households that do not have formal contracts) and are vulnerable to discriminatory policies, job losses and lower wages. Economic inequality is still one of the most pressing challenges. Organisations and companies play a fundamental role in perpetuating inequality as they are responsible for allocating wages that determine most individuals’ economic and social status (Sitzmann & Campbell, 2021). While the wage gap between females and males has decreased over time, women are still paid less than their male counterparts, especially in the formal sector (employment in enterprises that have legal contracts). Women who work and have the same educational qualifications as men earn less than their male co-workers (Norris & Kochhar, 2019).

Furthermore, since women generally spend less time in the ‘paid’ labour market, they have lower pensions and face a higher risk of poverty in their old age. According to the human capital theory by Becker (1964) and Mincer (1974), individuals are willing to tolerate income inequality if it is based on personal capabilities or efforts (Iwaski & Ma, 2020). However, if income inequality is due to discrimination based on gender, then it can cause social dissatisfaction. While there has been tremendous improvement in encouraging female participation, there is little progress in removing gender disparities that cause the gender wage gap, which can discourage female participation. This article will focus on China’s gender wage gap research to shed light on the practice of closing the pay gap between women and men. 


China’s gender wage gap

Many researchers have investigated wage inequality through the lens of gender in China. China has become an exceptional case of economic inequality, as income inequality, including the wage gap, has increased despite the transition to a market economy (Iwasaki & Ma, 2020). The opening of the Chinese market by Deng Xiaoping in 1978 ushered in a new era of economic reforms (Li, Sato & Sicular, 2013). The Chinese government introduced many national economic policies that fostered an increase in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and exports also increased. However, the same policies are credited for China’s economic growth and also amplified the gender inequality in the country. Researchers often credit the country’s economic policies for the growing gap rather than looking at the issue holistically. While the Communist Party of China has made numerous efforts to promote gender equality rhetoric in society, the Confucian ideology that believes women are subordinate to men still governs Chinese society (Hughes & Maurer‐Fazio, 2002). The Chinese constitution formally guarantees women equal rights with men and assures them equal pay for equal work (Wang & Wong, 2021). However, in reality, women in China are discriminated against in the labour market, with many women earning less than their male counterparts. The unrelenting increase in gender inequality and, in many cases, the gender wage gap has raised concerns among researchers and policymakers. Despite the growing evidence of policies initiated by the government that benefit women in education, there is also evidence of female labour market disadvantages. 

Before the economic reforms in China in 1978, the gender wage gap was relatively low, as, in an egalitarian society, women were able to access the same opportunities as men (Wang & Cheng, 2021). However, after the economic reforms, gender earnings differentials bourgeoned due to the deregulation of wage setting, rising returns to human capital, and gender discrimination in the market (Wang & Cheng, 2021). After the economic reforms, the government decentralised the wage payment system. It allowed private employers to diverge from the national wage scale and choose what they wanted to pay their employees. Due to these factors, Chinese women’s wages deteriorated during the country’s fast economic development. Females’ average wage fell from approximately 85 percent in 1988 to approximately 72 percent in 2009 (Lee & Wie, 2017). Another study discovered that migrant male workers earned 26 percent more per hour than their female counterparts (Qin et al., 2016). One of the leading causes of the increased gender wage gap is the reduction of State sector workers. In 1991, more than 97 percent of the urban workers were employed in State-owned enterprises, but by 2008 to 2009, only 50 percent of the urban workers were employed by the State (Lee & Wie, 2017). Other workers in industries run by private individuals are not bound by legislation to receive the national standards for a wage compared to State employees. Therefore, while State employees enjoy wage premiums in China, non-State employees are subject to wage discrimination, further amplifying the gender wage gap. 

While economic policies like decentralising the wage system have impacted the gender wage gap, changes in the labour force can also stimulate the gap. However, by focusing on the gender gap that does not differentiate between educated women workers and less educated women, the wage gap can be both overestimated and underestimated simultaneously. Like many countries such as Bolivia and Japan, gender norms dictate specific job roles in China, reinforcing gender inequality. Less-educated women that rely on jobs based on skill rather than education are more likely to be discriminated against than educated women. Owing to the job segregation, many women in China are stuck in jobs that do not require physical strength, which are low paying and have little scope for advancement (Fang & Sakellariou, 2015). The increase in discrimination and the less favourable treatment of female workers than male workers might be industry-specific factors contributing to the gender wage gap. However, a wage gap in China      can be found across different skill groups, further implying that the deterioration of Chinese women’s wages is pervasive and should not be ignored (Lee & Wie, 2017). 

Furthermore, social and cultural norms that influence the gender wage gap are a salient structural factor that is seldom discussed. Often social policies meant to benefit women can backfire and intensify the divide between male and female workers. For example, in 2012, the Chinese government, under the banner of “The Special Rules on The Labor Protection of Female Employees”, increased (paid) maternity leave from 90 to 98 days (Wang & Wong, 2021). While policies like maternity leave are meant to benefit women and help them, especially during pregnancies or miscarriages, maternity leave policies have often been cited as an avenue for further discrimination. Employers believe that government initiated female policies like maternity leave burdens them with extra cost as they must pay for the female employee even though they are on ‘leave’. In fact, as many employers must hire extra personnel to cover the female employees work, employers tend to discriminate against women during the hiring process. Moreover, scholars argue that because of maternity-based policies, private employers’ have certain stereotypes regarding childbirth and family responsibilities and therefore consider female workers less productive and less committed to work (Wang & Wong, 2021). Chinese women’s weakening position in the labour market could result in lower demand and wage rates. 

Additionally, within this debate, many researchers have found that gender disparities in earnings in the labour market can directly affect a parent’s child’s education expenditure (Wang & Cheng, 2021). Parents may invest more in their male children if they expect more significant future flows of remittances and returns from their male offspring. Many researchers believe that a narrowing gender wage gap may enhance girls’ educational prospects by producing a higher level of human capital investment (Wang & Cheng, 2021).



Women’s labour-force participation has long been recognised as critical to overall development. Women’s earnings improve their position in society, decision-making, power, and education. Closing the gender wage gap has been an important priority for many national and international conventions. Nevertheless, the gender wage gap persists in many societies and is not only pervasive within countries that have low economic returns. By examining China, this article highlights that despite the liberalised economic policies that guided the fast economic growth, a sharp deterioration of women’s position in the labour market further contributed to the widening of gender wage inequality. The gender-specific gap is often attributed to a rise in discrimination based on unobservable qualifications of female workers, gender norms and stereotypes, and less favourable treatment than male workers due to their employment status, industry-specific factors, and social policies. In terms of policy recommendations, China and other countries must consider implementing policies that regulate the wage scale to ensure a decrease in wage scale discrimination based on gender. 



Fang, Z., & Sakellariou, C. (2015). Glass Ceilings versus Sticky Floors: Evidence from Southeast Asia and an International Update. Asian Economic Journal29(3), 215-242.

Hughes, J., & Maurer‐Fazio, M. (2002). Effects Of Marriage, Education And Occupation On The Female/Male Wage Gap In China. Pacific Economic Review7(1), 137-156.

Iwasaki, I., & Ma, X. (2020). Gender Wage Gap In China: A Large Meta-Analysis. Journal for Labour Market Research54(1), 1-19.

Lee, J-W, & Wie, D. (2017). Wage Structure And Gender Earnings Differentials In China And India. World Development97, 313-329.

Li, S., Sato, H., & Sicular, T.      (2013). Rising inequality in China: Challenges to a harmonious society. Cambridge University Press.

Norris, E.D and Kochhar, K. (2019). Closing the Gender Gap. International Monetary Fund. Retrieved on June 6, 2022, from,

Qin, M., Brown, J. J., Padmadas, S. S., Li, B., Qi, J., & Falkingham, J. (2016). Gender Inequalities in Employment and Wage-Earning Among Internal Labour Migrants In Chinese Cities. Demographic Research34, 175-202.

Sitzmann, T., & Campbell, E. M. (2021). The Hidden Cost Of Prayer: Religiosity And The Gender Wage Gap. Academy of Management Journal64(4), 1016-1048.

Wang, H., & Cheng, Z. (2021). Mama Loves You: The Gender Wage Gap And Expenditure On Children’s Education In China. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization188, 1015-1034.

Wang, J., & Wong, R. S. K. (2021). Gender-Oriented Statistical Discrimination: Aggregate Fertility, Economic Sector, And Earnings Among Young Chinese Workers. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility74, 100622.



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Coordinator - Tibet Team

Mandakini graduated with honours from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Her team analyses the human rights violations faced by Tibetans through a legal lens.

Kenza Mena
Team Coordinator -China

Kenza Mena has expertise in international criminal law since she is currently pursuing a last-year Master’s degree in International Criminal Justice at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and obtained with honors cum laude an LLM in International and Transnational Criminal Law from the University of Amsterdam. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in French and Anglo-American law. 

Since September 2021, she has been the coordinator of Team China at GHRD, a country where violations of human rights, even international crimes, are frequently perpetrated by representatives of the State. Within Team China, awareness is also raised on discrimination that Chinese women and minorities in the country and, more generally, Chinese people around the world are facing.

Kenza believes that the primary key step to tackle atrocities perpetrated around the world is advocacy and promotion of human rights.

Aimilina Sarafi
Pakistan Coordinator

Aimilina Sarafi holds a Bachelor’s degree cum laude in International Relations and Organisations from Leiden University and is currently pursuing a Double Legal Master’s degree (LLM) in Public International Law and International Criminal Law at the University of Amsterdam.
She is an active advocate for the human rights of all peoples in her community and is passionate about creating a better world for future generations. Aimilina is the coordinator for the GHRD team of Pakistan, in which human rights violations of minority communities in Pakistan are investigated and legally evaluated based on international human rights legal standards.
Her team is working on raising awareness on the plight of minority communities such as women, children, religious and ethnic minorities within Pakistan.

Lukas Mitidieri
Coordinator & Head Researcher- Bangladesh

Lucas Mitidieri is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in International Relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). As the GHRD Bangladesh Team Coordinator, he advocates for human rights and monitors violations across all minorities and marginalized groups in Bangladesh. Lucas believes that the fight for International Human Rights is the key to a world with better social justice and greater equality.

Nicole Hutchinson
Editorial Team Lead

Nicole has an MSc in International Development Studies with a focus on migration. She is passionate about promoting human rights and fighting poverty through advocacy and empowering human choice. Nicole believes that even the simplest social justice efforts, when properly nurtured, can bring about radical and positive change worldwide.

Gabriela Johannen
Coordinator & Head Researcher – India

Gabriela Johannen is a lawyer admitted to the German bar and holds extensive knowledge in the fields of human rights, refugee law, and international law. After working for various courts and law firms in her home country, she decided to obtain an LL.M. degree from Utrecht University where she studied Public International Law with a special focus on Human Rights. Additionally, while working as a pro-bono legal advisor for refugees, she expanded her knowledge in the fields of refugee law and migration.

Gabriela is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD India, a country, she has had a personal connection with since childhood. Her primary focus is to raise awareness for the severe human rights violations against minorities and marginalized groups that continue to occur on a daily basis in India. By emphasizing the happenings and educating the general public, she hopes to create a better world for future generations.

João Victor
Coordinator & Head Researcher – International Justice

João Victor is a young Brazilian lawyer who leads our team of International Justice and Human Rights. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and possesses over 5 years of experience in dealing with Human Rights and International Law issues both in Brazil and internationally, including the protection of refugees’ rights and the strengthening of accountability measures against torture crimes.

João has an extensive research engagement with subjects related to International Justice in general, and more specifically with the study of the jurisprudence of Human Rights Courts regarding the rise of populist and anti-terrorist measures taken by national governments. He is also interested in the different impacts that new technologies may provoke on the maintenance of Human Rights online, and how enforcing the due diligence rules among private technology companies might secure these rights against gross Human Rights violations.

Célinne Bodinger
Environment and Human Rights Coordinator

As the Environment and Human Rights Coordinator, Célinne is passionate about the health of our planet and every life on it.

Angela Roncetti
Team Coordinator and Head Researcher- South America

Angela holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from Vitória Law School (FDV) in Brazil. Her research combines more than five years of experience conducting debates and studies on the rights of homeless people, the elderly, children, and refugees. Besides that, she also volunteers in a social project called Sou Diferente (I am Different in English), where she coordinates and takes part in actions aimed at the assistance and the emancipation of vulnerable groups in the cities of the metropolitan area of Espírito Santo state (Brazil).

Lina Borchardt
Team Head (Promotions)

She is currently heading the Promotions Team and University Chapter of Global Human Rights Defence. Her background is the one of European and International Law, which I am studying in The Hague. She has previously gained experience at Women´s Rights organizations in Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey over the past years.
She has been working for Global Human Rights Defence in the Netherlands since 2020. Her focus now is concentrated on the Human Rights and Minorities Film Festival and the cooperation of GHRD with students across the country.

Pedro Ivo Oliveira
Team Coordinator and Researcher

Pedro holds an extensive background in Human Rights, especially in Global Health, LGBTQ+ issues, and HIV and AIDS. He is currently finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and Affairs at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Moreover, he successfully attended the Bilingual Summer School in Human Rights Education promoted by the Federal University of Minas Gerais and the Association of Universities of the Montevideo Group. Besides, Pedro Ivo has a diversified professional background, collecting experiences in many NGOs and projects.

With outstanding leadership abilities, in 2021, Pedro Ivo was the Secretary-General of the 22nd edition of the biggest UN Model in Latin America: the MINIONU. Fluent in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, Pedro Ivo is the Team Coordinator and Head Researcher of the Team Africa at Global Human Rights Defence. Hence, his focus is to empower his team from many parts of the world about the Human Rights Situation in the African continent, meanwhile having a humanized approach.

Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
(European Union)

Alessandro Cosmo obtained his B.A. with Honors from Leiden University College where he studied International Law with a minor in Social and Business Entrepreneurship. He is currently pursuing an LL.M. in Public International Law at Utrecht University with a specialization in Conflict and Security. 
As GHRD’s E.U. Youth Ambassador, Alessandro’s two main focuses are to broaden the Defence’s reach within E.U. institutions and political parties, as well as mediate relations between human rights organizations abroad seeking European funding. 
Alessandro believes that human rights advocacy requires grass-roots initiatives where victims’ voices are amplified and not paraphrased or spoken for. He will therefore act on this agenda when representing Global Human Rights Defence domestically and abroad

Veronica Delgado
Team Coordinator and Researcher- Japan, Sri Lanka & Tibet

Veronica is a Colombian lawyer who leads our team of Japan, Sri Lanka and Tibet. She holds a master’s degree in Public International Law from Utrecht University. She has experience in Colombian law firms. Here she represented clients before constitutional courts. She also outlined legal concepts to state entities such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ombudsman’s Office on international law issues.

Veronica has an extensive research background with subjects related to public international law. She worked as an assistant researcher for more than two years for the Externado University of Colombia. Here she undertook in-depth research on constitutional, business, and human rights law issues. She was involved with consultancy services with the Colombian Army regarding transitional justice. 

Wiktoria Walczyk
Coordinator & Head Researcher (Nepal & Indonesia)

Wiktoria Walczyk has joined GHRD in June 2020 as a legal intern. She is currently coordinator and head researcher of Team Nepal and Indonesia. She has an extensive legal knowledge concerning international human rights and is passionate about children’s and minorities’ rights. Wiktoria has obtained her LL.B. in International & European Law and she specialised in Public International Law & Human Rights at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Moreover, she is pursuing her LL.M. in International & European Law and focusing on Modern Human Rights Law specialisation at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. In order to gain an essential legal experience, Wiktoria has also joined Credit Suisse’s 2021 General Counsel Graduate First Program where she is conducting her legal training and discovering the banking world. She would like to make a significant impact when it comes to the protection of fundamental human rights around the world, especially with regard to child labour. 

Fairuz Sewbaks
Coordinator and Head Researcher

Fairuz Sewbaks holds extensive legal knowledge regarding international human rights, with a specific focus on human rights dealings taking place in continental Africa. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The Hague University in public international law and international human rights and successfully followed advanced human rights courses at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. She furthermore participated in the Istanbul Summer School where she was educated about the role of epidemics and pandemics in light of human rights.


Fairuz is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. Her primary focus is to establish and coordinate long-term research projects regarding the differentiating human rights dealings of vulnerable and marginalized groups in continental Africa, as well as conducting individual research projects.

Priya Lachmansingh
Coordinator and Head Researcher, Political Advisor
(Asia & America)

Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International & European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
As GHRD’s Asia & America human rights coordinator and GHRD Political Advisor, Priya’s
prominent focus is to highlight human rights violations targeted against minority and
marginalized groups in Asia and America and to broaden GHRD reach within Dutch political
parties and as well seek domestic funding.

Jasmann Chatwal
Team Coordinator & Head Coordinator: North America

Jasmann is a political science student at Leiden University who joined GHRD in May 2021 as an intern in team Pakistan. Now, she is the team coordinator for North America and is responsible for coordinating the documentation of human rights violations in USA, Canada, and America.