Female labor force participation in India

A quite repetitive piece in The Wall Street Journal, What’s Holding Back India’s Economic Ambitions? Just 24% of women in India are working or looking for work. In the American upper-middle-class women not working is a sign of affluence a conscious choice to focus on investing in child-rearing rather than consumption. But this section jumped out at me:

In neighboring Bangladesh, female workers have played a crucial role in helping develop the garment industry—although the country’s factories have drawn charges of safety issues and worker exploitation. Bangladesh had a female labor-force participation rate of 38% last year, up from 28% in 2000. Its GDP per capita has surpassed India’s since 2019.

Economists say compared with India, Bangladesh has looser labor laws that have allowed factories to expand quickly and doesn’t have as many strong caste rules that encourage social conformity.

Reading about what has happened in urban Bangladesh due to the employment of young women in textiles is like reading about New England towns in the early 19th century. It’s basically history repeating itself. As I was reading the article I did wonder about caste and communalism; in many nations worries about who young women would meet at factories in particular was and is a massive concern. Could this really be an issue?

(China’s female labor force participation is 60%)

10 thoughts on “Female labor force participation in India”

  1. This is why in a China vs India context the Demographics arguments are DOA.

    China despite it’s total labor force declining gradually will still have more Total people in it simply because India’s FLPR is so comically depressed it will not surpass China’s Total for decades if ever.

    Alice Evans also sometime back had a thread (not sure it’s her theory or someone else she used).
    In Patriarchal skewed systems, Women are only allowed greater freedom (like workforce, movement, etc) IF said activity can compensate for Social Honor Loss (A Daughter becoming a Doctor or IAS is well over that threshold than even great conservatives males in family will try to sabotage).

    Maybe in places like Bangladesh this threshold was easier to breach (can be from multiple vectors, socio-cultural chain already weaker relatively or the poverty/income levels were so low that short burst of sustained rise was enough to push things over tipping point sooner & women LFPR spiked).

    China around 60 now is down from historic highs near 80% surpassed only by Vietnam at their Peak. Vietnam’s figure possibly the highest any Human society has ever had Ever FLPR (not even OECD/West matched it ever at any stage of their development).

    India is still operating on 8th century strategy of Human Capital Development, the only little positive thing being it’s now only not using like 35% of population while back then it was not using like 80% (with Women + Caste). This is how one gets smacked by outsiders despite having 10X differentials.

    And this is somewhat happening now as well with India getting it’s butt handed to it in Economics by behemoths that are Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia’s of the Asia.

    1. Your mention of Social Honor Loss in this context prompts my question. Did Bangladesh experience any changes in FLPR or other aspects of female public behavior following the mass rapes during the Bangladesh Liberation War? This was obviously long before the current modernization trend, so I guess I am asking if there is evidence that concerns with respect to male honor changed as a result of the war. (I’m a white male American boomer, so very unfamiliar with conditions in Bangladesh)

      1. I think at a super high level, with tons of nuances and wrinkles ignored, honor culture is more intense in the northern and western parts of the Indian subcontinent. E.g., north India, Pakistan. I think it’s a little bit less intense in southern and eastern parts of the Indian subcontinent. E.g., south India, Bangladesh.

        Some have hypothesized that this may have some nexus to the south and the east being traditionally rice cultivating regions while the north and the west being traditionally wheat growing regions. That’s just one hypothesis.

    2. In the long run I’d bet on India over Bangladesh.

      There’s no doubt that Vietnam and Indonesia will trounce India by miles. It won’t even be close.

    3. China’s TFR is sufficiently low that the advantage of high female labor participation will be neutralized in a single generation. And unfortunately for East Asia, high female labor participation makes it that even harder to raise TFR.

  2. The 24% figure is as illuminating as the gender pay gap percentages that are periodically flashed around. I wish the article had presented a deeper analysis with breakups along industries and regions (at least state-level). Where I work (one of the IT “parks” in Bangalore), these days it looks like more than 50% of the people I encounter are female. These are all white collar jobs, of course, not factory jobs, but if caste-intermingling were a factor inhibiting women from joining the workforce, I’d imagine it would apply as much to my workplace as to a factory. But this is relatively progressive Bangalore, so one cannot extrapolate from my anecdote.

  3. not the primary reason for most H’s, dont know about other groups. most of the reason and data will back it up is that a lot of women work in lower end of labor as maids etc, once their financial position improves, they stop work. Have seen this personally, its their life.

  4. The F-LFPR in India is at 32.8% currently. Data from MoSPI. It is a mistake to compare rates between two widely disparate entities of sizes.

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