Marriage reduces the likelihood of the participation of urban women in the workforce by 17%, suggests a study examining the determinants of women’s declining participation in the Indian labour force.
The presence of young children is also associated with lower participation, as women in households with children less than five years of age are less likely to participate in the labour force across rural and urban areas, according to a report ‘Working or Not: What Determines Women’s Labour Force Participation in India?’ by The Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE) at LEAD, a research centre of IFMR Society.
While educational attainment levels continue to grow, more educated women were unemployed in 2018-19 than 2011-12, it says.
Women’s participation in India’s labour force has been steadily declining since 1993-94. The study shows that the primary driver behind this decline has come from rural areas, with participation dropping by 24 percentage points since 1993-1994. By contrast, the participation of urban women during this period saw only a marginal decline, from 25% to 22.5%.
Rural women’s participation declined across all states during 2011-12 and 2018-19. A number of factors explain this phenomenon, including decreasing employment opportunities for women in rural areas.
The period between 2011 and 2019 has seen the percentage of female labour in the agricultural sector fall from 62% to 54.7%. The percentage of women employed in industrial work during this period also saw a marginal decline, from 19.9% to 19%. Although the same period also saw the share of women workers in the services sector rise significantly, this growth has largely been confined to urban areas.
Soumya Kapoor Mehta, Head, IWWAGE at LEAD tells DH, Covid-19 has exacerbated the challenge and laid bare the sharp gendered inequalities that continue to persist in India’s labour market.
“Millions of women, who are largely employed in the informal economy as domestic workers, garment workers, street vendors, and construction workers, have lost their jobs. The female labour force participation rate is estimated to have dropped below 20% now in the wake of the pandemic.”
The study highlights, as the household’s income levels increase, the likelihood of a woman being in the labour force decreases. It says, however, vocational training of all types raises the probability of labour market participation in both rural and urban areas, with on-the-job training having the highest effect.
The state’s social sector spending positively influences women’s LFPR across rural and urban areas. As such, the South of India has a higher proportion of women in the workforce than other regions in the country, says the report.
These findings are drawn from an analysis of household-level data from India’s Periodic Labour Force Surveys (PLFS), covering the years 2017-18 and 2018-19.
Mehta suggests that in order to have an equitable recovery, women’s unpaid care work must be urgently addressed through investments in childcare and social protection to mothers and care providers.
“We need to invest in policies and programmes that not only improve women’s labour force participation, but also their overall labour market outcomes by enhancing access to skill development, technical and vocational training programmes, provision of family-friendly policies, provision of safe and convenient transport, and access to better-paid formal jobs or entrepreneurship opportunities,” she says.