‘Exceptionally Low’ Female Labor Participation Holding Back India’s Economy – India Real Time – WSJ

Women’s empowerment hasn’t featured prominently so far in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s program for economic revival. It probably should, according to the latest overview of the Indian economy by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The report, released Wednesday by the Paris-based club of rich nations, suggests that enlarging economic opportunities for women could be a new “growth engine” for India, accelerating GDP growth by around two percentage points each year. India has narrowed the gender gap in health and education, the report says. But Indian women still lag far behind men when it comes to participation in both the formal and informal economies.

Just a third of working-age women in India were employed or looking for a job in 2010, a lower share by some distance than in Brazil (around 65%), China (75%), Indonesia (55%) or South Africa (45%). The figure for Indian men was over 80%.

More strikingly, female labor participation in India has actually fallen over the last decade: According to Indian-government data, the working-age populations of both men and women increased by around 100 million between 2000 and 2012. But the number of women employed or seeking employment only grew by 7 million over that period, whereas the number of men in those categories expanded by 70 million. Just a quarter of the increase in the number of women outside the labor force was accounted for by more women staying in school.

Indian women who do work don’t have great jobs, the OECD report shows. More than a third are unpaid helpers, as opposed to just 11% of working men. Women are also overrepresented in low-productivity agriculture and traditional, small-scale manufacturing. Only 6% of employed women get formal benefits like pensions or maternity leave. There aren’t many female entrepreneurs. (The report notes, though, that there aren’t many entrepreneurs in India, period, relative to other countries at the same stage of development.)

Illiterate women are more likely to be in the labor force than better-educated women, though participation is higher among high-school graduates. The relationship between female participation and income is similar: The richer a woman’s household is, the less likely she is to work.

Those patterns suggest “exceptionally low” female labor participation isn’t fully explained by simple measures of worker productivity.

On a 2012 OECD index of social obstacles to gender equality, India scores poorly relative to other large developing countries. Families’ preference for sons is stronger. Violence against women is more common. Women’s access to credit, land and property is more restricted. Marriage and inheritance laws favor men more.

Other social norms matter, too. As men’s incomes have risen over the last decade, their wives may prefer housework to a low-paying job, the report suggests. One study cited by the report finds that a family’s social status is considered higher if the woman stays at home.

via ‘Exceptionally Low’ Female Labor Participation Holding Back India’s Economy – India Real Time – WSJ.

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