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Female labour force participation

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  • Published
    14th Jun, 2019

As per the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) data published by the NSSO, fewer women are working now, and those who work are working for long hours with low pay.


As per the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) data published by the NSSO, fewer women are working now, and those who work are working for long hours with low pay.


Major Findings of the NSSO Data

  • India’s female Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR)—the share of working-age women who report either being employed, or being available for work—has fallen to a historic low of 23.3% in 2017-18, meaning that over three out of four women over the age of 15 in India are neither working nor seeking work. (The age of 15 is the cut-off used for global comparisons by the International Labour Organization).
  • Among urban women who do work, domestic cleaning work is the second most common profession after textile-related jobs.
  • India’s low LFPR was already a matter of concern in 2011-12, and placed India 12th from the bottom globally.
  • The further fall comes mainly from rural areas—female LFPR crashed by seven percentage points, while male LFPR remained roughly the same.
  • While some of the fall in women’s workforce participation is explained by higher rates of higher education enrolment, indicating that more young women are in higher education rather than working or looking for jobs, the data also points to a fall in working rates for older women.
  • While the LFPR for women aged 15-29 fell by eight percentage points between 2011-12 and 2017-18 to 16.4%, the LFPR for women fell by at least seven percentage points for every age bracket between 30-50 as well.
  • The decline in LFPR was highest among women aged 35-39 years which fell 9 percentage points to 33.5%.
  • Among women in the prime working ages of 30-50, more than two in three women are not in the workforce, with the majority of them reporting that they are “attending to domestic duties only".
  • Muslim women have the lowest LFPR while among Hindu women, forward caste women have the lowest LFPR, implying that social norms and religious conservatism might play a role in women being “allowed" to work.
  • Among Indian states, Bihar has by far the lowest rates of female workforce participation, while the southern and eastern states do better.
  • Among those in the workforce, rural women work overwhelmingly in agriculture, which highlight the probability of shortage of non-farm jobs, especially for women.
  • The most common jobs for urban women are of garment workers, domestic cleaners and ‘directors and chief executives’.
  • 99% of (women workers described as directors and chief executives) were self-employed, of which around one-third worked as unpaid family workers. Such women were mainly engaged within the self-help groups and co-operatives as partners and had thus been recorded as directors or working proprietors, even as their activities, for the most part, remained confined to food processing and garment manufacturing.
  • A large proportion of self-employed women workers were also engaged in outsourced manufacturing work, typically characterised by low earnings, long hours of work and lack of any form of social protection."
  • The high-skilled, white collar jobs for young women are rare. Instead, domestic work, house cleaning and salespeople dominate the urban sector for women. The only exception is the teaching profession, which makes it to the top 10 most common jobs for women.
  • The average employed Indian woman worked 44.4 hours per week (in the April-June 2018 period) as against the developing country average of 35-36 hours, as per ILO estimates. But in both developed and developing countries, women perform the vast majority of unpaid household and care work.
  • The unadjusted gender wage gap—the gap in the earnings of men and women in regular, salaried jobs, without accounting for differences in hours worked and educational qualifications—is significant. In rural areas, a male salaried employee earned nearly 1.4 to 1.7 times a female salaried employee, while in urban areas, salaried men earned 1.2 to 1.3 times a salaried woman.
  • Just nine countries around the world, including Syria and Iraq, now have a fewer proportion of working women than India. The female labour force participation in Bihar is less in comparison to any country of the world.

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