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In the first four months of 2017, a nugget of information went by unnoticed: while jobs for men increased by 0.9 million, 2.4 million women fell off the employment map, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), a think tank.
“Only women suffer when there’s an employment problem”, said Mahesh Vyas, CMIE managing director and CEO. The trend for this year points to a continuing story of Indian women increasingly clocking out of the workplace. It might not seem like it at first glance. You see women employed everywhere, in ad agencies and start-ups, on construction sites and in fields, in shops and restaurants, in schools and anganwadis, flying airplanes and driving taxis. Yet, if the number of women who quit jobs in India between 2004-05 and 2011-12 (the last year for which census data is available), was a city, it would, at 19.6 million, be the third-most populated in the world, after Shanghai and Beijing.
Only 27% Indian women are currently in the labour force. Among G-20 countries, only Saudi Arabia is worse, India Spend reported on April 9, 2016. Within South Asia in 2013, India had the lowest rate of female employment after Pakistan. In over two decades preceding 2013, female labour force participation in India fell from 34.8% to 27%, according to an April 2017 World Bank report.
India’s female labour force participation (FLFP) rate is highest among illiterates and college graduates in both rural and urban areas, according to this March 2017 World Bank report, which analysed government data from 2004-05 to 2011-12. These two groups, illiterates and those with college education, are also the groups that experienced the largest drops in FLFP rates over this period. Rising income levels and stability in families are disincentivising women from joining the labour force, according to Reassessing Patterns of Female Labor Force Participation in India, a March 2017 report by the World Bank, which analysed government data from 2004-05 to 2011-12. Using data from the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), this report shows that labour force participation rate of women in India has slipped dramatically in the last 20 years.
The drop has been most dramatic among women in rural India—research by the authors shows that while nearly half the rural women aged 15 years and above were “in the labour force” in 1993-94, the number dropped to less than 36% in 2011-12. Labour force participation rate of urban women has also dropped in the same period, though not as dramatically. For example, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh fall into one neat cluster, while Gujarat and Kerala, which are states neighbouring this geographical cluster and which are normally considered to be similar to these states lie rather far away. Essentially, both Gujarat and Kerala have a much lower employment rate among women than these four states. Kerala, interestingly, falls right in the middle of a cluster of eastern states such as West Bengal, Tripura and Assam. The other states in the North-East on the other hand are in a cluster with much higher female employment.
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