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Where are Indian Women Actively working? Peep into Industries & Occupation

Where are Indian Women Actively working? Peep into Industries & Occupation

Recently Nobel Prize in Economics for 2023 was announced to Claudia Goldin for her research on gender differences in the labour market using 200 years data from the USA. Women are vastly underrepresented in the global labour market and, when they work, they earn less than men.

Goldin showed that female participation in the labour market did not have an upward trend over this entire period, but instead forms a U-shaped curve.

The participation of married women decreased with the transition from an agrarian to an industrial society in the early nineteenth century, but then started to increase with the growth of the service sector in the early twentieth century. Goldin explained this pattern as the result of structural change and evolving social norms regarding women’s responsibilities for home and family.

This raise a question that all females are absent from the labour or job market during the lowest part of U-shaped curve? The answer is No…

Across this U-shape, the next question comes across is that presently working women or those are in active in the labour force as in doing jobs, where can they be found?

To dive deeper into this phenomenon, rather than only focusing upon ‘Missing Women’, this article looks at the picture other way around from ‘Active Women’ perspective.

Let’s have a look at where are Indian Women actively working? In academic terms, it can be said as an analysis of Female Labour Force Participation from industry and occupation perspective.

The identified industries and occupations can be taken as a guiding lighthouse to policymakers to facilitate and encourage employment generation in specific sectors. Furthermore, addressing challenges of those particular sectors might indirectly contribute in increasing number of female participants in the jobs.

Basics: What is Labour Force Participation?

The World Bank defines the labour force as the people aged above 15 years who provide labour for producing goods and services during a specific period.

Female Labour Force Participation Rate refers to the percentage of economically active females out of the total labour force.

The worldwide trend of female labour force participation rate has been rather flat since 1990. According to the data from the World Bank, it was 52.9% as of 2019, which means that approximately half of the females from the working-age population are engaged in the labour force.

What & Why of Gender Differences in Jobs and Unemployment

Source: ILOSTAT Estimation, 2022

Why are there such large gender differences across the different subcomponents of the jobs gap indicator?

First, personal and family responsibilities, including unpaid care work, disproportionately affect women, and these activities can prevent them from actively searching for employment or limit their availability to work at short notice.

Second, search discouragement is higher for women than for men. Although global estimates are not available, national data shows that on average women are more affected than men by discouragement due to labour market reasons, such as a lack of suitable employment opportunities.

Hence, the evidence points to both lack of opportunities and challenges to taking up opportunities as key drivers of the gender gaps. These findings imply that focusing on the unemployment rate by itself will understate the challenges that women face in finding a job.

Global Trend

In most of the continents, the trend in female labour force participation rate is horizontal. However, a closer look at the data insights that there is a significant difference in the level of female labour force participation rate.

The participation of women in the labour force varies considerably across developed countries and emerging economies.

Source: Labour Force Participation (%), World Bank Data.

In North America, Europe, Central and East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa regions, the female labour force participation rate ranges between 60 to 70%. Conversely, the rate is only 20 to 30% in South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. Despite the global female labour force participation rate trend being flat, it is surprising to know that the trend doesn’t follow suit in India.

Indian Labour Market & Women

As per the latest available Annual  Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) Reports, the estimated Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR) on usual status for women of age 15 years and above in the country was 30.0%, 32.5% and 32.8% during 2019-20, 2020-21 and 2021-22, respectively, which shows an increasing trend.    

To delve deeper into the research, we use PLFS data for 6 years from 2017-18 to 2022-23. It is found that sample collected under the survey varies from year to year. Hence, we have resorted to analyzing year-on-year trend instead of cumulative or data of working women in totality of all years.  

This article analyzes the participation rate in various industries and occupations across urban and rural India. The survey provides individual data regarding the National Industries Classification (NIC-2008) and the National Classification of Occupations (NCO-2004) and this has been used for the next part of analysis in this article.

In India, the ‘Active Women’ or the number of females participating in the labour force has increased from 30,613 in 2017-18 to 45,253 in 2022-23.

On breaking up these figures into the industries in which women are employed, we find that most women are employed in the agricultural sector.

The agricultural sector is followed by manufacturing, education, wholesale and retail trade, construction and health sectors. This distribution is consistent for all the years from 2017-18 to 2022-23.

On distributing the same figures occupation-wise, we discover that most of the working women are engaged in skilled agriculture.

This is followed by elementary occupations, crafts, service workers and professionals. The least number of women are engaged as clerks and plant and machine operators and assemblers.

In the course of this article, we try to understand the parities in areas of employment across urban and rural areas in India.

Working women in Rural India

The proportion of female workers distributed across various industries in rural India is somewhat similar from 2017-18 to 2022-23. But there is a gradual increment in absolute numbers over the years.

In 2017-18, there were 13,076 female workers engaged in the agriculture industry. This number soared to 22,123 in 2022-23. We see a huge drop in this number in the manufacturing sector where only 2742 females are employed in 2022-23.

The number further decreases in wholesale and retail trade, education and health sectors. Legal and accounting, transportation, administration and real estate are some of the sectors where the least number of women are engaged.

The majority of the working women in rural areas work in the skilled agriculture occupation.

This is followed by elementary occupations, crafts, service workers, professionals and technicians in the decreasing order of number of females engaged.

Working women in Urban India

The majority of the working women are engaged in the manufacturing sector in urban areas pretty divergent picture from rural areas.

This number was 2,811 for the year 2022-23 which has grown from 2,362 in 2017-18. Women are further engaged in education, wholesale and retail trade, health and services of the household sectors. Public administration and construction sectors have even further reduced engagement from female workers.

On examining the occupation-wise distribution of the female labour force, in urban areas, over the years, it becomes evident that most women work in elementary occupations.  This is followed by professionals, service workers, crafts and skilled agriculture.

The proportion of females involved in transportation, accommodation and food, information and communication, financial services, legal and accounting, real estate and administration sectors in urban areas is significantly higher than that in rural areas.

Similarly, the portion of working females involved in providing service to the households shows a rise in urban areas than in rural areas. 

These findings underscore the importance of considering both rural and urban contexts when formulating policies to promote women’s participation in the labour force.

Empowering women in agriculture, particularly in rural areas, and creating opportunities in traditionally male-dominated sectors, such as manufacturing, in urban areas, should be key focus areas.

To address the regional and sectoral disparities, targeted initiatives and policies aimed at providing equal access and opportunities for women in the workforce are essential. Ultimately, understanding these nuances is crucial for achieving gender equity and economic growth in India.

Vaibhavi Pingale

Ms. Vaibhavi Pingale is a Visiting Faculty of Economics at Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, Pune & at Savitribai Phule Pune University. She is pursuing her PhD. She has been actively writing media articles other than academic research.

Mihir Kulkarni

Mihir Kulkarni is a Research Intern at Tatvita Analysts. He is pursuing his Graduation in Economics.

Santoshi Rajguru

Santoshi Rajguru is a Data Scientist at Tatvita Analysts. She has pursued Masters in Statistics and works on various projects as researcher and data analyst.

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