Dolly Parton might have lamented the daily grind in the movie 9 to 5, but some women in this region would like to know what she had to complain about.

Even as women here have made considerable progress in the workplace, their counterparts in countries in this region with comparable economic profiles continue to struggle to find jobs that make use of the education they have had, or are labouring under gender wage gaps, a report by MasterCard has found.

In Singapore, the female labour participation rate comes in at almost 60 per cent, higher than in Japan, Hong Kong, Korea and Taiwan.

Japan, in particular, presented a vexing scenario: its women have the highest enrolment for secondary education, but one of the lowest female participation rates.

This discordance between education and workplace participation for women was reflected to a lesser degree in Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

The report, titled Women Power and Economic Growth in Asia, grouped these three jurisdictions with Singapore under "newly industrialised countries".

Simon Ogus, research company DSG Asia Limited's chief executive who wrote the report, said: "Unfortunately, Singapore aside, this group of countries seems overall not to make the best use of their large cohort of educated females."

Worsening matters, Korea and Japan have the highest and second-highest gender wage gap among member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Yuwa Hedrick-Wong, MasterCard's global economic adviser, wrote in the introduction to the report: "The wider the wage gap, the greater the disincentive for women to participate in the labour force."

Dr Ogus cited a number of factors which might be to blame for the disparity between education levels and the ability of women to find suitable employment: the lack of support mechanisms for the care of children and the elderly and "traditional, chauvinistic cultural attitudes".

"Whatever the explanation, governments must consider adopting female labour force participation-friendly policies, in order to tap the opportunity to employ large numbers of highly-educated females."

In other categories of countries, the prognosis is also sobering. The "Asian Tigers" category countries, comprising China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, have shown little sign of a surge in productivity or female labour force participation rate since 1980, on average.

In India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the average formal workforce participation rates among women are the worst in Asia.

It is not all glum news, however. In the emerging economies of Myanmar and Vietnam, progress is being made in female education and employment.

Dr Ogus said in the report: "This bodes well for future productivity growth, especially if labour laws remain employer- and investor-friendly, and infrastructure is successfully upgraded."