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Gender Disparity in Labour Force Participation

8th April, 2024 Social Issues

Gender Disparity in Labour Force Participation

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  • The recently released India Employment Report, 2024, by the Institute for Human Development and the International Labour Organization highlights improvements in key labour market indicators in recent years.
  • The Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR), Workforce Participation Rate (WPR), and Unemployment Rate (UR) demonstrated long-term deterioration between 2000 and 2019 but showed signs of improvement thereafter, despite challenges posed by economic distress, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

READ ABOUT FEMALE LABOUR FORCE PARTICIPATION: https://www.iasgyan.in/daily-current-affairs/female-labour-force-participation

Gender Disparity in Labour Force Participation

Female LFPR Disparity

  • Despite overall improvements, the female LFPR remains significantly lower compared to male counterparts. In 2023, the male LFPR stood at 78.5, while the female LFPR was only 37.
  • This disparity is pronounced when compared to the global average female LFPR rate of 49, as reported by the World Bank.

Historical Trends and Modest Improvements

  • The female LFPR had been steadily declining since 2000, reaching a low of 24.5 in 2019 before showing slight improvement, particularly in rural areas.
  • However, the authors note that despite these modest gains, employment conditions for women continue to be challenging.

Analysis by Azim Premji University

  • Amit Basole, an Economics professor at Azim Premji University and head of the Centre for Sustainable Employment, sheds light on the increase in labour force participation, primarily in rural areas and self-employment, which often entails unpaid work.
  • He attributes this trend to distress resulting from the economic slowdown preceding COVID-19 and the pandemic itself.

Increase in Self-Employment and Unpaid Family Work

  • The India Employment Report highlights that women account for a significant portion of the increase in self-employment and unpaid family work.
  • Following 2019, nearly two-thirds of incremental employment comprised self-employed workers, with unpaid family workers, primarily women, dominating this segment.
  • Meanwhile, the share of regular employment, which had been steadily increasing since 2000, started declining after 2018.

Youth Employment Challenges in South Asia

Global Trends

  • Globally, the rate of youth not in employment, education, or training (NEET) has consistently been highest in South Asia, averaging 29.2% between 2010 and 2019 according to the International Labour Organization (ILO) 2022 report.

Indian Scenario

  • India also grapples with a significant share of youth NEET, with rates higher among young women compared to men.
  • This trend underscores the challenges young women face in accessing employment, education, or training opportunities.
  • Addressing these disparities is crucial for fostering inclusive economic growth and empowerment of young women in India.

Overview of Barriers

  • Economists and women's rights experts identify various barriers hindering women's participation in careers or jobs.
  • These barriers encompass a range of factors, including a lack of job opportunities, disproportionate caregiving responsibilities at home, low wages, patriarchal mindsets, and safety concerns.

Insights from Jayati Ghosh's Analysis

  • In her 2022 book, "The Making of a Catastrophe: The Disastrous Economic Fallout of the COVID-19 Pandemic in India," Jayati Ghosh notes a sharp decline in women's labour participation between 2004 and 2018.
  • Ghosh suggests that while some of this decline could be attributed to increased involvement in education, especially among young women, overall scarcity of paid work appears to be a significant factor contributing to women leaving the labour market.

Supply and Demand Side Factors

Analysis by Prof. Basole

  • Basole emphasizes both supply and demand side reasons for the decline in women's Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR).
  • On the demand side, India's growth pattern has not been job-intensive, combined with social norms restricting women's mobility and confining them to caregiving roles at home.
  • Concerns over public safety and lack of transportation further limit women's options in seeking employment.

Insights from Claudia Goldin's Research

  • Claudia Goldin's research, recognized with the 2023 Economics Nobel Prize, highlights various factors influencing the supply and demand for female labour.
  • These include opportunities for balancing paid work and family responsibilities, educational decisions, technological innovations, laws, norms, and economic structural transformations.
  • Goldin's insights underscore the persistent limitations imposed on women's choices by marriage and domestic responsibilities.

Recommendations for Change

Intervention on Demand and Supply Side

  • Economists advocate for interventions addressing both demand and supply sides of the labour market.
  • Basole suggests policies promoting labour-intensive sectors and public investments in safety, transport, and affordable childcare and eldercare.
  • These interventions aim to create an enabling environment for women to participate in the workforce and access better-paying opportunities.


  • The challenges hindering women's participation in the labour force are multifaceted and require comprehensive interventions targeting structural barriers and societal norms.
  • Addressing these challenges is essential for fostering gender equality and inclusive economic growth.


Q. Analyse the factors contributing to gender disparity in labour force participation in India. Discuss the socio-economic implications of low female participation in the workforce and propose policy measures to address this issue.