India today is an economic powerhouse on the global stage. However, it faces a queer conundrum. Despite considerable gains in female education, decreases in fertility rates and increasing economic growth, only a fourth of its women are in the labor force, amongst the lowest in the world. Based on analysis of time series data over the last seven decades (1950-2018), this paper finds that women’s labor force and workforce participation rates have secularly declined to their lowest levels since Independence. Women’s wages have consistently been below men, with weighted average wage gaps increasing from 59% in 1993, to 72% in 2018. The fall in labor force participation has been led by women in rural areas, while female unemployment rates have remained higher than men in urban areas. We find that occupational segregation and concentration of women in low-growth sectors, income effect of rising household earnings, increased mechanization and gender gaps in tertiary education and skill training are leading factors behind the observed labor market outcomes. Recent high-frequency data shows that 15 million women lost their jobs in the first month of the COVID-19 induced lockdown. Even as the overall size of the labor force shrunk by 3% between November 2019 to November 2020, the size of the labor force shrunk by 13% for women, vs. 2% for men. Bringing women back to the workforce requires a differentiated approach, targeting different segments, especially informal workers, microentrepreneurs and the formal sector. Therefore, a diverse mix of targeted policy interventions like gender quotas in public works, easier access to credit for female micro-entrepreneurs, preferential procurement for women-owned business, greater flexibility in workplace arrangements and gender targets for skill training among others would help retain and promote workforce participation for women.
Nikore, Mitali; Prabhu, Poorva; Gupta, Manvika; Narang, Vidhi; Bhatnagar, Khyati; Talwar, Ashruth; Ganesh, Chandni; Singh, Ujjwala; and Banerjee, Samarpita
"India’s missing working women: Tracing the journey of women’s economic contribution over the last seven decades, and during COVID-19,"
Journal of International Women's Studies: Vol. 23:
4, Article 4.
Available at: https://vc.bridgew.edu/jiws/vol23/iss4/4