Dropping out, Being pushed out, or Can’t get in? – Why women in the Indian labour force are few and declining
Women’s labour force participation rate has been stubbornly low in India and has been declining over the last two decades. This presents a puzzle as India has several of the preconditions that have elsewhere been associated with increasing the participation of women in paid work. This has led to a strong suggestion that factors such as conservative social norms, marriage, childcare responsibilities, sexual violence, stigma associated with women having to work outside the home — supply-side factors — have kept women out of the labour force. This talk presents evidence that reveals that women enter and exit paid employment frequently over short periods. The volatility is greater for Dalit and Adivasi women that don’t share the social norms and taboos associated with upper caste women. This evidence contests the mainstream narrative of women voluntarily dropping out of the labour force due to an increase in conservative social norms
Women’s employment has suffered disproportionately more compared to men’s as a result of large and sudden negative economic shocks such as the 2016 demonetisation or Covid-19 induced lockdowns. This suggests that we need to focus on the demand-side story and develop appropriate policy responses.
Ashwini Deshpande is Professor of Economics and the Founding Director of Centre for Economic Data and Analysis (CEDA) at Ashoka University, India.
She has recently been working on the economics of discrimination and affirmative action, with a focus on caste and gender in India. She has published extensively in leading scholarly journals. She is the author of “Grammar of Caste: economic discrimination in contemporary India”, Oxford University Press,; and “Affirmative Action in India”, Oxford University Press.
She is the editor of several volumes and is currently editing the “Handbook of Economics of Discrimination and Affirmative Action” to be published as a part of the Springer Major Reference Works. She received the EXIM Bank award for outstanding dissertation (now called the IERA Award) in 1994, and the 2007 VKRV Rao Award for Indian Economists under 45.
Presentation prepared by the speaker: Here.