The $10 Trillion Prize

Why women in India aren't as wealthy as in China

October 10, 2012: 10:10 AM ET

A Q&A with Michael Silverstein, co-author of The $10 Trillion Prize: Captivating the Newly Affluent in China and India

By Ryan Bradley, senior editor

Michael Silverstein

Michael Silverstein

FORTUNE -- You expect Chinese female earnings to grow from $350 million in 2000 to $4 trillion by 2020, a tenfold increase in two decades. Why? And how?

Growth in income comes from three factors: higher relative wage rights, better education, and an aging workforce. Right now, women in China earn a discounted wage rate. Plus as they're earning more advanced degrees, the mix of occupations is improving. But the biggest factor is the aging of the female workforce. Age equals income, and there are many, many more 40-year-old female workers in Chinese cities than in Indian ones. That's the effect you're seeing.

This isn't new. China has been an extremely lucrative market for women because, in 1951 or '52, Mao basically said that all women will work. It became absolutely the norm, and daycare was always available, accessible to everyone, at nominal cost.

By contrast you expect relative earnings -- that is, women's wages compared to men's -- to decline in the next decade. What are they doing wrong, or what is China doing right?

China is way more advanced in terms of development economics. They are moving from an agrarian society to an urban one. In any agrarian group, there's discrimination no matter what. India is 70% rural, and women are treated very poorly. There's no such thing as women's rights in rural India.

Even in cities, where things are much better, women are not getting into technical careers. At IIT, the MIT or Harvard equivalent, it's 90% boys. There are very few women entrepreneurs in India, little access to education, no government agency to improve things, and no easily available daycare. And women there are still having on average 5.2 children.

In China, of course, there's the one child policy. The greatest growth in female income comes from small family size.

So it sounds like, in China, this equality is, if not perfect, at least planned.
Yes. The Chinese government puts out their 'five years plans' and they talk about how they are going to be gender and origin blind. The important thing here, though, is that they actually talk about it and create opportunities.

The governments in India are very disparate and only control 15% of expenditure. The states are important, and they are largely populated by male politicians, so there's no force for change.

There is the perception in the West that China -- especially with its one child policy -- strongly favors men over women. Yet women in china feel greater job security, seven of the top 13 richest self-made women are from China, and four of these are younger than 50 years old. Are we just wrong to assume?

Both countries do favor boys over girls. And in both, in rural places, girls are killed, aborted. It's a horrible thing for the world, and it's a demographic fact, primarily a rural effect in China and India.

China is still ruled by men. Most of the government officials are men over 50 years old. But women now have access to capital, and they are educated, and men and women in China believe their futures are bright. They believe they are doing better than their parents, and their children will do better. There's a great sense of optimism.

What do Chinese women, as consumers, want? What are they looking for? How should companies court them?

They want the same thing the upper class in America wants: a nice house, a nice car, a second home in the country, and they want a pet -- a dog, which is an extreme statement of wealth and prestige. They love luxury goods and branded items. China is the fastest growing market for BMW and Mercedes, Nike (NKE) and Addidas, and it's Apple's (AAPL) second largest market. It's a profound marketing opportunity for companies with heritage.

Also, they want to have more than one child. My belief is that over the next five years, the one child policy is going to relax.

A longer version of this story appeared in the October 8, 2012 issue of Fortune.

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