New modelling indicates that culture is still the key driver of gender inequality in Asia


For over 30 years now, sociologists have explored how tourism could advance gender equality in global contexts. However, more recently it has been argued that the methods used in studies have stagnated the development of knowledge. Research has tended towards focusing on the micro-politics of gendered interactions in the tourism industry, and predominantly has been restricted to small-scale case studies. Whilst these case studies help to build a pattern that supports the idea that tourism facilitates gender equality, trends on a larger, regional scale remain undetermined.

Correspondingly, research published by Zhang and Zhang in The Annals of Tourism Research (Volume 85, 2020) attempts to fill this knowledge gap. Using economic modelling and The World Economic Forum’s gender equality index– which outlines economic, political, and educational opportunities as well as health security as key predictors of a country’s gender equality- the research focusses on the impact of tourism across 36 countries in Asia. It investigated to what extent tourism positively impacts gender equality across three overarching regions of the continent- Central and West, East and Southeast, and South. At Equality in Tourism, we understand that economic modelling can be a particularly perplexing area of academic research, so in this blog we attempt to breakdown the key takeaways of Zhang and Zhang’s research, to reveal the fascinating findings that large-scale models offer.

Tourists in Bangkok, Thailand- one of the countries analysed in Zhang and Zhang’s modelling

The results of the Zhang and Zhang’s modelling firstly demonstrate that tourism does have a positive impact on gender equality, both within the subsample regions, and across Asia as a whole. Indeed, tourism was shown to improve gender equality across every variable of the gender equality index.

However, there were also substantial regional disparities. For example, the positive effects of tourism on gender equality was shown to be most strongly felt in the East-Southeast region (e.g. countries such as China, Korea or Thailand) followed by the West and Central countries- such as Iran, Turkey, Cyprus, or Qatar. In turn, tourism had the least significant impact to gender equality in the South Asian countries, like Sri Lanka, Pakistan or India.

Taking each of the variables of the gender equality index in turn, results also revealed that tourism has the least impact on economic aspects of gender equality, such as financial independence, in Central and Western Asia. This speaks to how gender inequality may be driven by cultural rather than economic factors in this region. This analysis fits with prevailing understandings of the conservative attitudes towards gender roles and identities within Islamic cultures, compared to the influence of Confucian cultures in East and Southeast Asia.

Overall, what is particularly interesting is how the study provides a quantitative backbone to support the conclusions of previous, case study-based research. It demonstrates that changing cultural attitudes is key to advancing gender equality in regions of Asia. Equality in Tourism supports the implications of this insight, which suggests the role of tourism- as an industry which is instrumental in both sharing and shaping culture- is critically important to advancing gender equality.


Zhang, J. and Zhang, Y. 2020. Tourism and gender equality: An Asian perspective. Annals of Tourism Research. 85. 1-12.

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