Women, marriage and labour market participation

The economic impact of the non-participation of married women in the workforce in India is considerable, given their substantial representation among the working-age population

October 26, 2023 12:16 am | Updated 01:20 pm IST

‘The labour market entry of women is influenced by a range of individual and societal factors’

‘The labour market entry of women is influenced by a range of individual and societal factors’ | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Women’s labour market participation is often concomitant with enhanced economic prospects and better household decision-making power. From a macroeconomic standpoint, a diminished level of women’s labour force participation rate (LFPR) has significant consequences for women’s intra and inter-household bargaining power, as well as the overall economic progress of the nation. “There are still large differences between women and men in terms of what they do, how they’re remunerated and so on,” said Claudia Goldin, who was awarded this year’s Economics Nobel “for having advanced our understanding of women’s labour market outcomes”. Goldin’s comprehensive analysis of the economic history of women has presented new insights into the many aspects of gender disparities in the labour market. Additionally, her research has shown the underlying factors that have contributed to these gaps throughout history, and the persisting inequalities that exist in contemporary times.

Data shows low labour participation

Globally, however, the level of female labour force participation remains relatively low. World Bank estimates (2022) show that the worldwide LFPR for women was 47.3% in 2022. Despite the remarkable advancements observed in the global economies, there has been a persistent decline in the labour force participation rate (LFPR) of women in developing nations. The estimations also indicate that female labour force participation in India between 1990 and 2022 has decreased from 28% to 24%. This fall has impeded their growth and hindered their ability to achieve their maximum capabilities. A significant disparity in labour market participation based on gender continues to persist worldwide.

Economist Goldin (1994) highlights this as the LFPR of adult women exhibits a U-shaped pattern during the course of economic growth. Further, she added that “the initial decline in the participation rate is due to the movement of production from the household, family farm, and small business to the wider market, and to a strong income effect. But the income effect weakens, and the substitution effect strengthens at some point.”

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The issue is made considerably dire when married women express a desire to participate in the labour market. After marriage, there is a tendency for women’s LFPR to decrease due to many variables. These factors encompass women’s limited educational attainment, less mobility as a result of increasing family obligations, and societal disapproval associated with women in employment outside the domestic sphere. The institution of marriage amplifies domestic obligations for women while concurrently imposing many social and cultural impediments that affect their participation in the workforce.

Multiple factors contribute to the diminished labour force involvement of married women or their proclivity to exit the labour field after marriage. The labour market entry of women is influenced by a range of individual and societal factors, perhaps impacting married women to a greater extent than their unmarried counterparts. Several variables contribute to limited labour participation for women, such as their religious and caste affiliations, geographical location, the wealth of their household, and prevailing societal norms surrounding women’s employment outside the house.

Other challenges

When women decide to resume their professional careers upon marriage, they tend to exhibit a preference for some employment opportunities that offer enhanced flexibility and are situated in close proximity to their residences. Women also encounter gender-asymmetrical professional costs as a result of several societal constraints, resulting in gender disparities in premarital career selections, income inequality, age at marriage, and decisions about fertility decisions. It has been observed that women of the upper strata tend to adhere to stringent societal standards by predominantly assuming domestic roles. Conversely, women from the lower strata are more inclined to engage in the labour market, primarily driven by economic constraints that stem from poverty.

When analysing the female labour force participation rate (FLFPR) based on the Usual Principal Status (UPS) and Usual Principal and Subsidiary Status (UPSS) categories in India’s NSSO Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) survey (25 to 49 years), it becomes apparent that married women show a considerably lower employment proportion under the UPS status when compared to the UPSS status. The data show that marriage significantly influences women’s labour market outcomes.

In 2022-23, there has been a notable decrease of 5% in the female labour force participation rate among married women aged 25 to 49 years, with a decline from 50% in 2004-05 to 45% in 2022-23. The decline in the female labour force participation rate (LFPR) is primarily concentrated within the age group of 25-29.

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Further, married women exhibit lower levels of labour force participation when compared to their unmarried counterparts. The examination of the influence of educational achievement on the rate of married women’s involvement in the labour force shows that women lacking literacy skills demonstrate a greater inclination to participate in the labour force after getting married, as opposed to their well-educated counterparts. Empirical analysis that relates to the allocation of female labour across diverse industry sectors in India demonstrates that agriculture remains the prevailing sector in terms of female employment.

Solutions to pursue

Literature on female LFPR has underscored the noteworthy impact of social and cultural elements on women’s choices about their entry into the labour market. This analysis primarily examines the relationship between women’s marital status and their labour market outcome in the Indian labour market. The findings indicate that married women exhibit the lowest levels of labour market participation as compared to widowed, divorced and unmarried women. The economic impact of married women’s non-participation in the workforce in India is considerable, given their substantial representation among the working-age population. It is imperative to look at suitable solutions in order to promote women’s empowerment in the phase of high economic growth. The absence of adequate day-care services frequently acts as a disincentive for female labour force participation. Therefore, it is imperative to enhance the quality and accessibility of day-care services/crèches for employed women across various socio-economic strata, encompassing both formal and informal sectors.

The government has enacted initiatives such as the National Creche Scheme for The Children of Working Mothers. The implementation of such schemes is imperative in both the public and private sectors. This is particularly important in increasing the involvement of married women in the labour field. The implementation of work settings that prioritise the needs and well-being of women, the provision of secure transportation options, and the expansion of part-time job possibilities would serve as catalysts for the greater participation of women in the labour market within India.

Balakrushna Padhi is Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics and Finance, BITS Pilani, Rajasthan campus. Simran Jain is pursuing her PhD in Economics in the Department of Economics and Finance at BITS Pilani, Rajasthan. Krishna M. is Associate Professor in the Department of Economics and Finance, BITS Pilani, Rajasthan campus. The views expressed are personal

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