The triumph of women in the American office place has been perhaps the greatest economic story of the last century. In 1900, only 19 percent of women participated in the labor force. In 112 years, that number has tripled, and just a few years ago, there were more officially employed women than men in the United States.
But the rise of working women has been much slower around the world. Here's a graph, via the International Labor Organization, comparing the gap between youth male and female participation rates around the world in 1991, 2001, and 2011. Worldwide, the gap has barely budged. In South Asia, it's still terribly high. In East Asia, the gap is totally inverted: women are officially working more than men.
What's going on here?
Sometimes the biases behind these gaps are purely institutional. In Sudan, for example, women still lack access to bank accounts, and in Yemen, it is
illegal for women to leave the home "without permission from a male
family member or an escort," according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.
In some cases, the gap is cultural. The women don't expect to work because their mothers didn't work, or because the national values don't emphasize employment as a "female" virtue. In Pakistan, for example, male participation rates are among the highest in the world, but less than "one out of five young Pakistani women participates in labor markets, which primarily seems to reflect cultural barriers to female labor force participation."