Discussion Papers

No.896 Is female labor immobility holding back industrialization in Pakistan?

by Ian Coxhead, Sisira Jayasuriya and Takashi Kurosaki

April 2023


Pakistan has not had much success with labor-intensive export growth. It also has one of the world’s lowest rates of female labor force participation and low intersectoral mobility of female labor. This paper explores links between these two phenomena. From national household survey data we find that in a plurality of households, the senior male member retains authority over decisions concerning women’s activities, and that women’s lack of autonomy is correlated with their labor force status. We then use a trade-theoretic model to show that in the aggregate, restricting female mobility limits the gain from a positive export shock by reducing potential for specialization in labor-intensive manufacturing. Analysis of labor force data from years before and after an EU decision to lower tariffs on garment imports from Pakistan reveals no meaningful change in the composition of employment or the participation of women, a sharp contrast with experience in otherwise similar countries.

Keywords: Pakistan, female wage labor, specific factors model, purdah, GSP+

JEL classification: F16, O14, J16, J62

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