Journal of Population Economics

, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 783–818 | Cite as

Why are fewer married women joining the work force in rural India? A decomposition analysis over two decades

  • Farzana AfridiEmail author
  • Taryn Dinkelman
  • Kanika Mahajan
Original Paper


In contrast with global trends, India has witnessed a secular decline in women’s employment rates over the past few decades. We investigate this decline in rural areas, where the majority of Indian women reside. Using parametric and semi-parametric decomposition techniques, we show that changes in individual and household attributes fully account for the fall in women’s labor force participation in 1987–1999 and account for more than half of the decline in 1999–2011. Our findings underscore increasing education levels among rural married women and the men in their households as the most prominent attributes contributing to this decline. We provide suggestive evidence that changes in more educated women’s relative returns to home production compared with market production may have adversely affected female labor force participation in rural India.


Female labor force participation Decomposition analysis Education India 

JEL classification

J21 J22 



The authors thank the International Growth Center (IGC)—India Central and the Planning and Policy Research Unit (PPRU) at the ISI (Delhi), for financial support. Abhiroop Mukhopadhyay, Bharat Ramaswami, and two anonymous referees provided valuable inputs. The authors are responsible for any remaining errors.

Funding information

This study was funded by IGC—India, Project Code 1-VRA-VINC-VXXXX-89217 and PPRU project “Women and Work in Rural India.”

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Farzana Afridi
    • 1
    Email author
  • Taryn Dinkelman
    • 2
  • Kanika Mahajan
    • 3
  1. 1.IZA and Economics and Planning UnitIndian Statistical Institute (ISI)DelhiIndia
  2. 2.NBER, IZA and Department of EconomicsDartmouth CollegeHanoverUSA
  3. 3.Department of EconomicsAshoka UniversitySonepatIndia

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