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How Much, Where and How Do Women Earn in Kazakhstan?

«The keeping obstacles for women in the Kazakhstan labor market will undoubtedly reduce the country’s ability to ensure more sustainable economic growth», – said researcher Anna Alshanskaya, member of the CABAR.asia School of Analytics from Nur-Sultan.


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Women in Kazakhstan make up slightly more than half of the country’s total population, but their contribution to indicators of economic activity, growth, and well-being is significantly lower than their potential capacity. In the ranking of gender gap by the World Economic Forum (WEF), which determines the gender differences in access to resources and opportunities of the countries of the world, the position of Kazakhstan worsens every year. Since 2014, Kazakhstan has lost 17 positions, and by the end of 2018 it took 60th place among 149 countries of the world. Moreover, how much women can benefit from the economic development of any country depends on their position in the labor market. The labor market in Kazakhstan remains quite segmented, and this, in turn, affects the level of the gender gap and hinders the country’s inclusive growth.

Women’s employment: key trends

According to estimates of the International Monetary Fund, the world economy loses from inequality between women and men from 10% of GDP in developed countries to 30% in South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.[1] In addition, the study shows that increasing the participation of women in the workforce significantly increases the rate of economic growth and the welfare of the country. In this vein, with the increase in number of women participating in the labor force in Europe and Central Asia, economic well-being increases by about 1%.[2]

In Kazakhstan, the participation rate of women in the economically active population in 2018 was 64.8%, which is 11.1 percentage points lower than among men. Moreover, the gap in the level of economic activity and employment tends to narrow down – the indicator in 2014 was 12.3 and 11.9 percentage points.

The differences in employment status, according to statistics, are small. About 76% of the employed population, both women and men, works for hire, about 24% independently provide themselves with work. The main area of ​​female employment is the service sector. It employs more than 50% of women.

At the same time, the distribution of men and women by sectors of the economy is markedly different. Thus, only 22% of workers in the transport sector and 24.3% of the construction sector are women. In addition, the proportion of women is 1/5 of workers in the mining industry.

The highest concentration of women (about 70%) is observed in the fields of education, health care and accommodation and nutrition services – women. Also, women make up 60% of all workers engaged in trade and financial activities compared to 40% of men.[3]

There are several reasons for the uneven distribution of women and men across sectors of the economy. In this vein, the choice of activity is taken by many women in favor of more flexible in terms of a combination of work and family responsibilities. Gender stereotypes also affect professional self-determination and career development. As a rule, only a small part of women has technical education and relevant qualifications. Moreover, according to the Labor Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan, women are still denied access to 191 types of work related to adverse working conditions and the performance of hard physical work (up to 2018 it was 287).[4] However, the most primary factor remains the gender segregation of vocational education, which lays the foundation for sectoral differentiation of employment.

The highest concentration of women (about 70%) is observed in the fields of education, health care and accommodation and nutrition. Photo: Sputnik / Vladislav Vodnev

In addition to industry differentiation, the labor market is characterized by professional segregation. This means that women are underrepresented in senior management in most sectors of the economy.

In this connection, in 2018, women headed only 17.9% of large enterprises, 30% of small and 34.7% of medium-sized enterprises in Kazakhstan. Education is the only area of ​​activity where the prevailing proportion of women is leaders (64.4%). 47.4% of senior managers in healthcare and social services are women. In the financial and insurance sectors, 41.7% are women managers, in the hotel and restaurant business sector – 41.1%. A small number of women leaders are noted in agriculture (14.8%), mining (12.7%), and construction (16.9%).

Gender gap in labor remuneration  

Despite the significant presence of women in the labor market, a gender gap in labor remuneration remains in Kazakhstan. In 2018, women’s salaries were only 65.8% of what men earned. Compared to 2016, the ratio of wages to men showed a slight decrease of 2.7 percentage points.

Moreover, the gender gap in labor remuneration is usually much lower among those who enter the labor market for the first time and tend to grow with increasing age of workers. So, in 2018, the largest indicator of the gender gap in labor remuneration was noted in the age groups of 35–44 years (36.7%) and 45–54 years (35%), the smallest – in the age groups of 65 years and older (25.3 %) and below 25 years (16.9%).

In Kazakhstan, the socio-economic factors — the number of men and women in a certain type of economic activity, their profession, education, age, length of service, and so on are largely determined by the gender gap in labor remuneration.

The gender pay gap by type of economic activity varies greatly. In the area of ​​administrative and support services and education, women earn more than men, which is more than 95%. In the areas of health and social services, the wage gap is also small – women earn 93.3% of men’s income. In sectors such as finance and insurance, women’s average earnings reach 66.7% of men’s earnings, and 64% in the professional, scientific and technical fields of activity, and 50.4% in the arts and entertainment sectors.

In addition, the higher the position, the lower the number of women holding it compared to men. So, according to the Committee on Statistics of the Ministry of National Economy of the Republic of Kazakhstan, in 2018, the average salary of men working as heads of all levels of organizations was 608.5 thousand tenge (about 1600 US dollars), translator position – 300.5 thousand tenge and an economist – in 295.2 thousand tenge (800 US dollars). This is 1.4 – 2.1 times higher than the average salary of women in similar positions and professions.[5]

The imbalance in wages is also due in part to the fact that women have less time for paid work, because they do unpaid household chores. As in most countries of the world, a significant proportion of unpaid domestic work is carried out by women. As a result, women’s working hours tend to be longer than men. For example, according to the International Labor Organization, on average, women spend 4.4 hours on unpaid work in the world, and only 1.7 hours is done by men. The smallest gap remains in Norway, where women work unpaid work for 3.7 hours, while men spend 3 hours for similar work. In the US, the rate is 3.8 hours versus 2.4 hours.[6] For instance, in Kazakhstan women in the management of the household spend 4 hours and 14 minutes, while men spend – 1 hour and 28 minutes, or nearly 3 hours less.[7] Many studies show that gender imbalances in unpaid labor not only deprive women of economic opportunities, but also hinder the qualitative growth of the country’s economies. In this vein, Oxfam experts came to the conclusion that the cost of women’s unpaid labor is 10 trillion dollars a year or 1/8 of world GDP.[8]

Consequently, wider access to jobs does not lead to a significant reduction in the wage gap between men and women. At the same time, sectoral and professional differentiation in the labor market in many respects limits the possibilities of women in paid work.

Female unemployment and employment issues

Today, women in Kazakhstan still face a higher risk – compared with men – of being left without work. Despite a slight decrease over the past 5 years, the unemployment rate among women – 5.4% – is 1.1 percentage points higher than among men. At the same time, considering age groups, women aged 29-34 years are more likely to have difficulties in finding a job. In 2018, the indicator amounted to about 8% for both residents in the city and rural areas.

At the same time, rural women are most vulnerable to unemployment compared to other categories of the population: 5.6% among women, 4% among men. Thus, according to a sociological survey of women living in rural areas, the majority of respondents noted “difficulties in finding work”.[9] Agriculture, as the main type of employment in rural areas, demonstrates a demand, mainly for male labor. In addition, given that women spend a large amount of time doing housework and caring for children and the elderly, women’s economic opportunities are even more limited in rural conditions and low infrastructure access.[10]

One way to generate income as a result of job shortages is self-employment. It is worth noting that the state is taking measures to reduce informal self-employment, including among women. If in 2010 34% of employed women were self-employed, then by 2018 the percentage of self-employed women fell to 23.5%. Most self-employed women work in the following two categories: agriculture (38.7%) and wholesale and retail trade (40.4%). Self-employed men also work in these sectors, as well as in transport and construction.[11] Moreover, a significant part of the self-employed in Kazakhstan remains outside the legal field and is practically not provided with social protection mechanisms and, as a rule, is faced with unstable working conditions.

When registering a business, most women prefer to be individual entrepreneurs. According to statistics, 53% of Kazakhstani individual entrepreneurs are women (in 2014 – 47.7%). At the same time, women’s business specializes more in low value-added industries. Thus, over half of SMEs related to education, real estate operations, accommodation and food services, wholesale and retail trade, healthcare and social services are headed by women. At the same time, the main barriers to the development of female entrepreneurship, in particular in the countryside, are the absence of collateralized property and business skills.[12]

State support and economic empowerment of women

With regard to gender equality, Kazakhstan is a party to international treaties and is in process of introducing international standards into its legislation. Thus, Kazakhstan has signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Currently, the development of gender policy in the Republic of Kazakhstan is in the Concept of gender and family policy in the Republic of Kazakhstan until 2030.

In terms of expanding the economic rights and opportunities of women, the development of women’s entrepreneurship is an important area. For example, within the framework of the state Program for the Development of Productive Employment and Mass Entrepreneurship for 2017-2021, unemployed and self-employed are given the opportunity to learn the basics of entrepreneurship and receive a microloan for opening or expanding their own business. As part of the implementation of the Business Roadmap 2020, support is also being provided for new business projects by entrepreneurs, including women. Since 2011, the Damu Fund has been implementing programs for financing small and medium-sized businesses through a loan from the Asian Development Bank, which provides for financial support for women entrepreneurs.

Promoting the employment of self-employed and unemployed women is also a component of state support for women. Thus, for example, young people after completing an educational institution can undergo paid youth practice at the enterprise. Also, unemployed people have the opportunity to receive free short-term training in specialties that are in high demand on the market.

In general, government support measures are making positive changes in enhancing women’s economic independence. However, expanding the potential of women in the economic sphere remains an important priority in terms of the country’s development.

Conclusions and recommendations

Thus, the labor of women in Kazakhstan is applied in a limited number of industries and sectors that are traditionally considered to be “female”. The greater competitiveness of women in the labor market is also hindered by the so-called “glass ceiling” or low accessibility to leadership positions. Earnings of Kazakhstani women are most often less than men’s earnings for the same type of labor activity, even traditionally “female” professions. In addition, such an important element as unpaid domestic work, which is mainly occupied by women, is still not recognized.

The keeping obstacles for women in the Kazakhstan labor market will undoubtedly reduce the country’s ability to ensure more sustainable economic growth. The following measures are necessary to expand the economic opportunities of women in the work sphere.

Firstly, the implementation of gender planning of the state budget and the implementation of these OECD best practices within the budget cycle can provide a more effective policy aimed at achieving gender goals. Currently, gender budget planning in Kazakhstan is still at an early stage of development.

Secondly, it is important to improve the access of women, including those living in rural areas, to microfinance and business development services.  

Thirdly, it is necessary to strengthen the role of trade unions in expanding women’s access to quality jobs, narrowing the pay gap for men and women and generally supporting compliance with Kazakhstani legislation and principles to prevent discrimination at the workplace.


This material has been prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project project. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial board or donor.


[1] Kochhar, Kalpana, Sonali Jain-Chandra, and Monique Newiak, eds. Women, Work, and Economic Growth. Washington, DC: International Monetary Fund. 2017.

[2] Ostry, Jonathan D., Jorge Alvarez, Raphael Espinoza, and Chris Papageorgiou.  “Economic Gains from Gender Inclusion: New Mechanisms, New Evidence.” IMF Staff Discussion Note 18/06, International Monetary Fund, Washington, DC. 2018.

[3] Committee on Statistics of the Ministry of National Economy of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Internet access:  https://stat.gov.kz Official statistical information / Labor / Main indicators of the labor market in Kazakhstan for 2018.

[4] List of works on which the use of women’s labor is prohibited, limit standards for lifting and moving weights manually by women Internet access: http://adilet.zan.kz/eng/docs/V1500012597

[5] Statistics Committee of the Ministry of National Economy of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Internet access:  https://stat.gov.kz Official statistical information / Labor / Salary of employees by profession (position) in certain types of economic activity of the Republic of Kazakhstan for 2018

[6]  https://www.imf.org/ru/News/Articles/2019/10/15/blog-the-economic-cost-of-devaluing-women-work

[7] One-time modular survey “Use of time budget by the population”. Internet access: https://economy.gov.kz/ru/news/ispolzovanie-byudzheta-vremeni-naseleniem-respubliki-kazahstan

[8] https://www.oxfam.org/en/why-majority-worlds-poor-are-women

[9] A study of the economic opportunities of rural women to be included in the economic agenda of the Government as a separate category of socially vulnerable people. Center for Applied Economics Research, 2019

[10]A study of the economic opportunities of rural women to be included in the economic agenda of the Government as a separate category of socially vulnerable people. Center for Applied Economics Research, 2019  

[11] Statistics Committee of the Ministry of National Economy of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Internet access:  https://stat.gov.kz Official statistical information / Labor / Main indicators of the labor market in gender perspective

[12] A study of the economic opportunities of rural women to be included in the economic agenda of the Government as a separate category of socially vulnerable people. Center for Applied Economics Research, 2019

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