India’s workforce tragedy – low women participation

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The low and reducing percentage of women in India's workforce is a dangerous signal for women empowerment.


India’s workforce tragedy – low women participation



In recent decades, India has enjoyed economic and demographic conditions that are more conducive to rising female force participation rates. Economic rates have been high at 6 to 7% in the 1990s and 2000s, fertility has fallen and female education has increased. Similar trends in other countries like Latin America, Middle East and North America have resulted in large increases in female participation. But India has failed in this direction, as the NSS (National Sample Survey) data shows. Female participation in the age-group 24-54 has stagnated at 26 to 28% in urban areas and declined in rural areas from 57% in 1987 to 44% in 2011. These are horrible figures. India’s “demographic dividend”, where the share of working-age is high, is capable of propelling growth rates through labour force participation, savings and investment effects. And right now, we are unable to get women into workforce. It will also lead to labour shortages in some sectors. Download various reports on women in workforce, from our Bodhi Resources page 

Women empowerment? World Bank data shows employed women have a greater bargaining power, having a positive overall effect. A technical explanation could be : The feminization U hypothesis, where in the development process, female labour participation first declines and then rises. Why the decline? (a) rising incompatibility of work and family duties, (b) husband’s income effect and (c) stigma of women working away from home. Then comes the rise. Why? (a) receding stigma, (b) high potential earnings of women with increased education, and (c) fertility decline. A strong relation between education and female participation is visible in India, more particularly in urban areas. (What Explains The Stagnation of Female Labour Force Participation in Urban India? By Stephen Klasen and Janneke Pieters). 

OECD’s Piritta Sorsa (Why Do So Few Women In India Work?) analyses data from 1987-2012 to find a strong income effect of husband’s education, a negative effect of children, marriage and the presence of in-laws, and positive effects of access to finance and infrastructure, and access to MNERGA. In urban areas, data from 1987-2012 suggests that rising household incomes and husband’s education and adverse development in district-level demand contribute to decline in female participation. Fertility decline and rising women’s education contributed to decline, resulting in net stagnation. Structural changes in India, leading to shrinking agriculture and expansion of services and manufacturing sector contributed to the decline in women’s participation in work force.


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Bodhi Saar: India’s workforce tragedy – low women participation
India’s workforce tragedy – low women participation
The low and reducing percentage of women in India's workforce is a dangerous signal for women empowerment.
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