Women & Work - what caught our eye in December 2023
News, research, data, and recommendations about women and work - curated by our team
Hello, and welcome to CEDA’s newsletter ‘Women & Work’!
🎄 We hope you are enjoying the year-end holidays and festivities with cheer and warmth. As we wrap up the year, here’s bringing you a quick wrap of all the important updates on women in work from December 2023.
Do keep an eye out for our year-end special that will land in your inbox very soon! And in case you want to browse through past editions in the meantime, you can find them all here.
To everyone who is new here: At the Centre for Economic Data and Analysis (CEDA), we are working on an ambitious project to understand and find ways to overcome the demand-side barriers that are keeping women out of the workforce.
We are curating ‘Women & Work’ with the hope that it can provoke, stimulate and amplify conversations about women’s participation in paid work in India. Please do share this edition on your social media, and with your friends, family and colleagues. Thank you!
🗞️In The News
Estimates for the labour force participation for Jul-Sep 2023 quarter were released by the National Sample Survey Office at the end of November. These quarterly bulletins of the Periodic Labour Force Survey provide data on urban India.
Less than a quarter (24 percent) of urban women aged 15+ were part of the labour force in this period, compared with 73.8 percent of men. A year ago, in the Jul-Sep 2022 quarter, the LFPR for urban women (aged 15+) was 21.7 percent while for urban men in the age group, it was 73.4 percent.
However, the share of women workers in salaried/regular jobs has seen a decline in the same period. As a consequence, the share of women working in salaried employment is the lowest in any quarter since FY 2019 (when the quarterly surveys started), a Business Standard report notes. Read more here.
The Indian government is planning to set up 17,000 creches in Anganwadi centres, with the aim to enable women’s labour force participation, The New Indian Express reported. The Central government is encouraging states to identify locations with a higher participation of women in the unorganised sector so that the centres could be located at appropriate places. Read more here.
Telangana has become the latest state to provide free bus services to women, girls and transgender persons. The new government of the state launched this initiative on Dec 09 as the ‘Maha Lakshmi scheme’. This will be applicable to all state-run buses within the boundaries of the state. Read more here.
On a related note - greater access to ride-hailing services could boost the number of women in the workforce by 3.7-6.5 percent by 2028 in five Indian cities, research by Uber in partnership with Oxford Economics has found. The analysis is based on responses from 7,000+ respondents based in Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai who use Uber’s service and filled in the in-app survey.
Three-fourths of the women surveyed cited safety as the primary reason to use ride-hailing services to commute to work. Half said that the service allowed them to manage their time – and by consequence work-life responsibilities - better. Forty percent said that access to this form of transport enabled them to join the workforce, while a third said it allowed them to access a wider pool of opportunities. Read more here.
Women in senior positions are willing to spend more time (and money) on upskilling themselves than their male counterparts, a study by Emeritus Executive Education has found, The Economic Times reported. Read more here.
The Covid-19 pandemic brought working-from-home central to the conversation on jobs and employment. Many wondered if it could be the solution to low rates of female labour force participation in India.
In their research, Suhani Jalota and Lisa Ho (2023) conduct a randomised controlled trial (RCT) in Maharashtra to find answers.
Jalota & Ho are interested in the labour force participation of married women. As they note, among women aged 25-29, who were not married, the LFPR was 60 percent in 2019-20, while among those who were married, it was only 20 percent despite similar levels of education.
The researchers set out to understand what makes such a big difference.
What prevents married Indian women from being able to take up jobs? Are these “practical” constraints, such as mobility and safety concerned, or are these simply “domesticity” constraints i.e. women should not be working outside of the house because, well they are women?
To test which one exerts a bigger influence, the researchers test if work-from-home jobs make a difference. If practical constraints are the reason why fewer women are able to take up paid work, then the availability of work-from-home remote jobs should offer an effective solution.
They designed a randomised controlled trial where married women were randomly assigned to work-from-home and work-from-office jobs, and these were further cross-randomised by wages.
The researchers collaborated with an NGO Myna Mahila Foundation and Microsoft Research to design a smartphone-based gig-work platform that offered work-from-office (WFO) and work-from-home (WFH) jobs. The WFO jobs were designed to be women-only, located within a five-minute walking distance from the respondents’ homes, allowed mothers to bring their children and female supervisors were available to support.
Among those offered WFO jobs, only 27 percent of the women took these up, while among those who were offered WFH jobs, 56 percent took these up. Clearly, just designing office spaces to overcome the “practical” constraints wasn’t enough. (When the husbands were offered the same job, there was no significant difference between uptake of WFO and WFH jobs). Further, women who were in WFH jobs were more likely to complete all tasks assigned to them as compared to women in WFO jobs. However, they demonstrated lower productivity (and slightly lower accuracy) than office workers.
Almost half of the women who took up these jobs were likely to stay in the job till the end of the experiment (two months). However, the retention rates for office-based workers, note the researchers, was higher than for those in WFH jobs (50 percent versus 40 percent, respectively).
Jalota & Ho conclude:
“Taken together, the experiments suggest that even beyond practical constraints, domesticity constraints keep married women out of the labour force in India. Without changes to these constraints, home-based jobs may represent the most immediate path to increase women’s labour force participation.”
But there are of course many caveats to this. Find out more in the full paper, available here.
Between 2017-18 and 2022-23, the share of men who were employed in the primary sector (agriculture, forestry and fishing) declined from 37 percent to 33.4 percent. However, for women, this share went up from 52.8 to 58.8 percent, data from the Periodic Labour Force Survey shows.
👍 CEDA Recommends
This edition’s recommendations have been curated especially for our readers by Anuradha Saha, Assistant Professor of Economics at Ashoka University.
What’s an essential academic work that you would recommend to someone who is just getting started with working on the subject of female labour force participation?
Anuradha Saha: I would recommend the paper "Gender Gaps and the Rise of the Service Economy'' by Ngai and Petrongolo (AEJ Macro 2017) to understand gender within a macroeconomic context. The authors introduce a gender-neutral mechanism that highlights the factors which contributed to rising (but still below parity) female-male wage ratio and rising female market hours. They find that the trends between 1970-2007 are influenced by both marketisation (shift of production of goods and services from home to market) and structural change (rise of the service sector). While marketisation drew women into the market, structural transformation created the jobs that women are better suited for in the market.
Anything published in the news media recently that shed light on an important aspect about women’s work in India?
The recent announcement by wrestler Sakshi Malik quitting the sport was distressing news. Her decision came in the wake of Sanjay Singh being elected as the President of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI). Despite women wrestlers openly expressing their grievances on national television, detailing instances of sexual harassment allegedly committed by the former WFI President (who also happens to be a close associate of the new President), the failure of institutions and national bodies to establish a fair and transparent process for reporting and adjudicating such grievances is deeply troubling. I hope things change for the better in the next couple of weeks.
Is there a film that you can recommend which, in your opinion, does a good job of portraying the world of work from a gender lens?
I watched Deadloch, a mystery series set in a quaint Australian town, this year. Despite its predominantly female population, certain events trigger instances where men become aggressors against women. I found the exploration of sociological dynamics surrounding the criminal events both enlightening and entertaining.
Another noteworthy TV series, Search: WWW, offers a compelling perspective on women navigating corporate roles. This Korean drama delves into the professional journeys of three ambitious women, showcasing their distinct strategies to advance in their careers. The series also depicts how they collaborate to manage their professional challenges when facing opposition from men.
And a book that did the same?
When I think about women in the workforce, I believe the foundation of their choices lies in their homes. A book that sheds light on how women weigh the costs and rewards of working is "Act of Will" by Barbara Taylor Bradford. This novel follows three generations of women from diverse backgrounds, each with distinct priorities when it comes to career choices and other decisions in their personal lives. What resonated with me was the portrayal of how these women had to draw strength from within themselves and, at times, were fortunate to find external support to overcome challenging circumstances
The picture shows women workers on their way to work at the Todd Erie Basin Dry Dock in the USA
The Second World War transformed the labour force in the USA profoundly. As a large number of men went to war, more and more women joined the workforce. The American government encouraged them to take up paid work, and companies and industries that had so far been closed to women, welcomed them as well. The Todd Shipyard was no different – while in 1941 they operated with an “anti-feminine bias”, by June 1943, nearly 5,000 women were working in the repair and building yards and were "operating cranes, driving diesel locomotives, working in the mould loft and at bolt cutters, drill presses and lathes in the machine shops." Read more here.
That’s all from us for this edition. Thank you for reading! We will see you next month. In the meantime, if you have feedback, questions, tips, or just want to say hello, feel free to do so by replying to this email, or drop in a word at email@example.com
Curated by: Akshi Chawla for the Centre for Economic Data & Analysis (CEDA), Ashoka University. Cover illustration: Nithya Subramanian