Turns out the answer is Chile. But I was more interested in the reverse question: Which of these countries has the highest level of female participation in the workforce? The answer is Thailand, which has a whopping 65.1% of its women in the workforce, as compared to our 59%, Canada's 62.1%, Philippine's 50.2% and South Korea's 49.9%.
Now, I'm no expert on Thailand; I've only ever spent two weeks there, on business. Two of my blogmates are a lot more familiar with the country (nudge nudge).
But if I had to guess, I'd say the high number is due to the way Thailand is undergoing globalization on multiple levels. Definitely a developing nation, with a serious urban white collar growth. Still lots of rural work. Increasing numbers of factory workers, where contractors to multinationals prefer obedient young women to men. An extensive informal economy (the women selling Thai food on the street corners, which you don't find in some other Asian countries). An increasing number of women in white collar jobs. And, of course, Thailand's famous sex trade.
Now, like I said, I was there on business. I was teaching a class for an American firm. And while my class was probably almost half women (though not all were Thais), the men were still in the more senior positions. Though, from my perspective, the women were more apt at the touchy feelie skills we were training. A locally-based Anglo colleague said he figured the women were sharper because they were often the first generation in the professional work force, and they still felt like they had to fight for every career advance. I was also in car dealers, where about half of the salespeople were women. Mind you, this is not at all one of those countries where they sell cars by showing T&A; the women wear conservative uniforms, just like the men. So, at least within the white collar venue, the numbers hold up pretty well.
But what I was struck by was the absolute bipolar treatment of women. On one hand, it's absolutely impossible to avoid the sex trade, which falls out of barroom doors. On my first night there, a colleague took me and a male colleague to a bar. "Don't worry, it's safe," he told me. That's when I began to get worried. "There are hostesses, but it's not overwhelming." Nevertheless, I was the only white woman in this bar (it was kind of an English sports bar, so all the other patrons were white men). And the only woman not fawning on a male patron.
But at the same time, Thailand treats the rest of its women like sainted virgins. I was informed the motorcycle taxi industry arose in Bangkok because women were forbidden from straddling a motorcycle and so had to pay men to drive them around on the more practical motorcycles. And during an outing with the same colleague who took me to the sports bar, one of the students in the class called him to ask him to chaperone her Starbucks date with a man. And when I took the whole course out for dinner, I was the only woman sharing beer with the men; all the other women sat separate from the men, drinking their juice (though this is not unique to Thailand; in China, I've always been lucky to get any of the women to be invited to banquets, and they rarely participate in the toasting).
You always hear discussion of how increasing economic opportunities for women lead to lower birthrates and better gender equity. But here is Thailand, leading most other countries in female workers, with such a bipolar approach to women, right out of Victorian England where everyone was either a virgin or a prostitute.
Anyway, I don't have any insight on this. But I thought I'd open it up for comment. (Between the labor experts and the folks who know more about Thailand here, I'd be curious to hear everyone else's take on the data.) Is Thailand a new model for how globalization and increased workforce participation affects gender roles?