The paradox of the contented female worker: Evidence from Bangladesh’s ready-made garments sector

M. Niaz Asadullah (Faculty of Economics and Administration, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)
Fahema Talukder (Macquarie University Macquarie Graduate School of Management, Macquarie Park, Australia)

International Journal of Manpower

ISSN: 0143-7720

Publication date: 1 July 2019

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to study the determinants of subjective and emotional well-being of workers in Bangladesh’s female-intensive export-oriented ready-made garments (RMG) factories based on a function of demographic, economic and psychological factors and work-place characteristics.

Design/methodology/approach

Employee-level data are obtained from a purposefully designed survey conducted in 2014 on 50 RMG factories located outside the country’s export processing zones. Dependent variables include domain-specific as well as overall life satisfaction. The analysis is quantitative in nature and based on ordered probit and (factory) fixed-effect regression models.

Findings

Compared to men, female workers are found to be more satisfied with life and financial situations and less depressed, a finding that is robust to controls for workplace characteristics and policies (e.g. provisions for childcare; higher presence of female supervisors; and management’s attitude toward work life balance) and factory fixed effects. This suggests that despite various compliance-related problems, employment in the RMG sector is intrinsically valued by female employees. Among other findings, although absolute income does not appear to affect well-being, relative income effect is statistically significant.

Originality/value

Although there is a sizable literature on the importance of decent jobs and women’s employment in low-pay manufacturing jobs in developing countries, studies on whether women intrinsically value such jobs are limited. Our study is unique in the sense that it draws on a purposefully designed survey conducted a year after the deadly collapse of RMG factory buildings in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The incident exposed unsafe work conditions in which millions of women work in manufacturing sector around the developing world. To our knowledge, this is also the first paper on subjective assessment of work and non-work aspects of lives of women employed in Bangladesh’s RMG sector. The study also contributes to the international literature on the paradox of the contented female worker in low-pay jobs. Therefore, the paper will be of significant interest to readers from other countries that rely on apparel exports and depend on female labor.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors are thankful to participation in the Global Labor Organization (GLO) session at the ICAEP 2017 conference in Malaysia for useful comments. The usual disclaimers apply.

Citation

Asadullah, M.N. and Talukder, F. (2019), "The paradox of the contented female worker: Evidence from Bangladesh’s ready-made garments sector", International Journal of Manpower, Vol. 40 No. 4, pp. 800-814. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJM-08-2018-0283

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Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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