Key message 1 – Job choices available to women in poor rural villages are limited and related to poverty levels

For the 896 million people1 living below the international poverty line worldwide today productive employment activities are essential for increasing incomes and moving poor households out of poverty. Yet, the choice of jobs available to the poor is often limited. Even within poor communities, often only wealthier individuals have the most stable and productive jobs, while the ‘ultra-poor’ depend on jobs with lower and more irregular incomes.

This study of BRAC’s ‘Targeting the Ultra-Poor’2 programme (Bandiera et al. 2015) considers the employment opportunities and choices of women in different wealth classes in 1309 villages across Bangladesh’s most vulnerable districts. In these village economies, the choice of jobs is limited and women effectively choose between casual wage labour in agriculture or working as a domestic maid, and self-employment in livestock rearing. Before the intervention, there is a clear division in employment activities by wealth class. As shown below, the poorest women are far more reliant on casual wage labour, while women from wealthier households are predominantly engaged in livestock rearing.

This division is important for two reasons. Firstly, hourly earnings for wage labour are lower than those for livestock rearing – while there is variation across space, on average hourly earnings in livestock rearing are more than double those for wage labour. Secondly, those engaged in livestock rearing work consistently throughout the year, whereas demand for agricultural labour is seasonal. As a result, women in poor village communities are constrained in the employment opportunities they can access, and it is the poorest who work in the lowest-paying jobs and face irregular income streams throughout the year.

Figure 1: Share of hours spent on activities, by wealth class


  • 1 World Bank estimate of global poverty as of 2012.
  • 2 BRAC implemented two variations of the ‘Targeting the Ultra-Poor Programme’ in Bangladesh (an asset transfer and a soft credit model). All references to the evaluation or study contained herein, refer to the asset transfer model.