Labour participation rate of women in India visibly low, says World Bank study

‘Rise in educational enrolment and socio-economic status contributed to the drop’

April 17, 2017 08:00 am | Updated 08:00 am IST - BENGALURU

Women workers spin silk thread inside a government silk weaving factory, in Mysore. File photo

Women workers spin silk thread inside a government silk weaving factory, in Mysore. File photo

Despite high growth rate during the economic reform period, five economists of the World Bank have found that women’s ability to access job opportunities in the new economy has been “precarious”.

India’s Female Labour Force Participation (FLFP) rate has remained visibly low and the International Labour Organisation ranks India’s FLFP rate at 121 out of 131 countries in 2013, one of the lowest in the world. India had the lowest FLFP rate in South Asia, with the exception of Pakistan. Globally, only parts of the Arab world held a lower FLFP rates than India.

In 2013, FLFP rate for India was 27% against China’s 63.9%, and it was 56.3% in the U.S., 79.9% in Nepal, 57.4% in Bangladesh, 35.1% in Sri Lanka, 24.6% in Pakistan, 23.3% in the Arab world, and 50.8% in the European Union, according to economists Luis A. Andres, Basab Dasgupta, George Joseph, Vinoj Abraham, and Maria Correia.

Economists in their research paper ‘Precarious Drop Reassessing Patterns of Female Labour Force Participation in India’, published by the World Bank in April 2017, found that FLFP dropped by 19.6 million women from 2004–05 to 2011–12. Participation declined by 11.4% — from 42.6% to 31.2% — from 1993–94 to 2011–12.

Approximately 53% of this drop occurred in rural India, among those aged between 15 and 24. An increase in educational enrolment among the younger cohort, attainment of socio-economic status, and household composition largely contributed to the drop.

However, some of the reasons cited for the decrease suggest that it was not entirely a negative trend.

Stability in family income, as indicated by the increasing share of regular wage earners and declining share of casual labour in the composition of family labour supply, had led female family members to choose dropping out of the labour force.

“One plausible explanation for the recent drop in FLFP is that with the recent expansion of secondary education, as well as rapidly changing social norms in India, more working age young females (15 to 24 years) are opting to continue their education rather than join the labour force early. The decline in the FLFP rate for females between 15 and 24 years of age was to a large extent due to an increase in female enrolment in education,” the research paper said.

When the two periods between 1993–94 to 2004–05 and 2004–05 to 2011–12 are compared, most of the drop in FLFP was found during the second period.

An additional 31 million females added in the labour force during the 11-year period between 1993–94 and 2004–05. In contrast, during the later seven-year period, there was a significant drop in the female labour force by 19.2 million individuals.

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