If you are a moderately educated woman, you are significantly less likely to grab a job in India, compared to your higher- or lower-educated fellows. This paradoxical relationship between female education and labor force participation in India is highlighted by the latest report on ‘Analyzing Female Employment Trends in South Asia’ by the World Bank. The real problem behind the low female labour participation rate in India is the exclusion of women from white-collar clerical and retail sales jobs, which is among the major employment sectors for moderately educated workers, and typically female in the rest of the world.
The World Bank predicts that if all women engaged in domestic duties who are willing to work had a job, the female labor force participation rate would increase by about 20 percentage points in India. The report also underlines that the fall in the labor force participation rate among educated women in urban India is linked to their limited participation in sectors suitable for educated women, such as white-collar services, while the proportion of graduates in the overall working-age population has nearly doubled.
Major reasons for low female labour participation rate
Gender norms in both public and private spheres are closely entwined with the status of women in a region, religion, or caste. As a result, significant differences in female labor force participation exist by region, ethnicity, religion, and social status. In India, a husband’s preference and perceptions of community attitudes are also linked to his wife’s work outcomes. In particular, they find that where males perceive that the community thinks badly of a husband whose wife works, the likelihood of wives working falls significantly.
Legal barriers are another roadblock in female employment. Barriers such as restrictions on working hours are key to understanding how a discriminatory policy may affect overall female participation in the labor market.