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Working or Not: What Determines Women’s Labour Force Participation in India?

April, 2021

Women’s labour force participation is abysmally low, and persistent gender gaps characterise the Indian labour market. It is alarming to note that women have been continuously dropping out of the labour market since the mid-2000s. Their participation has been declining despite rising GDP, increasing educational attainment, rising household incomes, and declining fertility. Utilising household-level data of Periodic Labour Force Surveys (PLFS) (covering the years 2017-18 and 2018-19), and NSSO’s Employment-Unemployment Surveys (EUS) (various rounds completed in 1993-94, 1999-00, 2004-5, 2009-10, 2011-12), this paper provides systematic evidence on the country’s gender gaps in employment and labour market outcomes.
This paper tries to unpack the critical aspects of low female labour force participation in rural and urban India. Findings suggest that women have notably lower employment rates than men, even though their enrolment in schools and colleges have risen. U-shaped relationship between education and women’s labour force participation is seen, which is strongly evident in the case of urban women. Women perform a disproportionate amount of unpaid care work and domestic work and face multiple constraints in society, limiting their mobility and labour market choice, forcing them to take non-wage employment or remain out of the labour force. Our findings suggest that policies supporting women’s entry into the labour market, such as vocational and technical skills, can significantly impact increasing their participation and mitigating persistent inequalities in India’s labour market outcomes. The paper underscores the importance of a comprehensive and integrated approach and suggests investing in gender-responsive policies to break down women’s economic engagement barriers.

Resource Type Working paper

Topics Women’s labour force participation

Authors Ruchika Chaudhary