Women and work in rural India

In India, only 32.6% of the half-a-billion working-age women report working. In contrast, the global average is 48% (Millennium Development Goals Report, 2013). The low rate of women’s labour market participation in India is puzzling for a country that has experienced rapid fertility transition, broad increases in their educational attainment, as well as substantial economic growth over the past two decades. Rather than facilitating entry of women into the labour force, these changes have been accompanied by a consistently low (20%) share of women working in urban areas (Klasen and Pieters, 2013) and a real reduction in the share of women working in rural areas, from 50% to 40% between 1987 and 1999 (National Sample Survey, NSS). These statistics contrast sharply with increases in women’s labour force participation globally (World Development Report, 2012) and in other developing countries (World Bank, 2012) during the same period.

This project aims to understand the determinants of women’s labour force participation and why it has been falling since the late 1980s in rural India where almost 70% of India’s population continues to reside. Specifically, we will investigate the importance of supply-side factors that influence women’s choice to work, and their choices about how much to work.

We propose to do this in three steps: First, we will use repeated rounds of the NSS data to describe how changes in female labour force participation (FLFP) over time can be decomposed into changes associated with reduced fertility and increased schooling. Second, we will develop a discrete choice model of rural female labour supply that allows households to make decisions about the allocation of female time between work and home (as in Heckman, 1974), to highlight the skill complementarity of female time with other inputs in home production. Third, we will estimate key parameters of this structural model of labour supply using pooled cross sectional data from the NSS to allow us to quantify the economic significance of supply-side factors in determining FLFP and simulate its response to demand side factors, viz. the NREGA program and the expansion of employment in the services sector.


  • Research in progress.

    Project last updated on: 9 Mar 2017.