As part of India Human Development Survey, the team covered 42,000 households across the country

Employment in agriculture has fallen sharply over the last seven years and a combination of farm-oriented and non-farm work is now the most common form of rural employment, according to the findings of a nationwide representative sample survey conducted by the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER).The Hindu is reporting exclusively from the findings of the NCAER’s 2011-12 round of the India Human Development Survey.

The NCAER team covered 42,000 households across the country, 83 per cent of which were surveyed for the last round of the IHDS in 2004-05. The IHDS is the largest independent household sample survey in the country.

The IHDS’s findings on employment show that the fall in agricultural employment — documented in the 2011 Census as well — is much larger than what was previously believed. In 2004-05, half of all rural men and 83 per cent of rural women worked only on farms, making it the most common type of rural employment. However, exclusive farm-oriented work is still the most prevalent form of employment among rural women, engaging 66 per cent. The IHDS findings contradict the latest data of the government’s National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), which shows purely farm-based work as the biggest employer in the country.

“It is a fact that the NSSO has not been able to adequately capture the combinations of different types of economic activities that people engage in,” said Preet Rustagi, a labour economist, professor and joint director at the New Delhi–based Institute for Human Development (IHD).

According to the IHDS findings, non-farm work is now a bigger employer for rural men in Punjab, Haryana, Assam, north-eastern States, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The same is true for rural women as well in the two southern States.

The IHDS confirms an alarming trend — the NSSO found so too — of a fall in the participation of women in the workforce — from 47 per cent women aged 15-59 in 2004-05 to 43.7 per cent in 2011-12. The participation rate, which considers all those employed or looking for work, for men is 78.9 per cent and 77.2 per cent in 2004-05 and 2011-12 respectively.

While the fall in male participation is primarily explained by rising higher education enrolment, the work participation rate for women have fallen even for those in their 20s and 30s.

The IHDS also confirms that wages have grown exponentially over the last decade. The daily agricultural labour wage has nearly tripled for men in the last seven years, while the non-agricultural wage has more than doubled. The wages of women workers, though still much less that male workers, have grown similarly.

(Part 2 of a five-part series)

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