This paper explores the features of rural labour markets in the contemporary period with a focus on women workers, based on secondary data as well as the PARI archive of village data. The first argument is that the low female work participation ratio, as reported by labour force surveys, may be misleading. The picture is very different with time-use data: the majority of women are found to be engaged in economic activity, with clear seasonal variations. Secondly, women workers are more dependent on agriculture than male workers. The relative absence of non-agricultural employment among women workers is consistent with the argument that women face constraints to physical mobility and prefer employment near their homes. The third notable feature of recent times is that large numbers of women, from different social groups and economic classes, participated in the employment generated under National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. This evidence put together suggests that if appropriate employment opportunities are provided, the number and proportion of women workers will rise. The fourth striking feature of rural labour markets is the persistence of a large gender gap in wages. Lastly, Scheduled Castes typically comprised the major share of the rural female labour force.
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Text of the keynote address on theme “Changing Pattern of Rural Labour Markets” was delivered at the 61st Labour Economics Conference, Patiala, on 7–9 December 2019. I am grateful to Shruti Nagbhushan for preparing the tables and Mansi Goyal for editorial suggestions.
For more on PARI, see http://fas.org.in/category/research/project-on-agrarian-relations-in-india-pari/.
While the survey collected information on all activities including extended SNA and non-SNA activities, only SNA activities are reported in this paper.
All definitions and quotes are from MOSPI (2011).
As Ghosh (2016) and others have argued, the explanation that women drop out of the workforce on account of participation in education or attaining higher incomes does not hold ground.
These data, of course, all point to high unemployment among male workers.
This is not a new finding: based on data for eight PARI villages, Ramachandran et al. (2014) stated that “an extraordinary feature of our village data is the extent to which agriculture dominates the wage-work done by Dalit women workers in manual labour households”(p. 304).
Nevertheless, with a few exceptions, the days of employment received by Dalit women was less than the days of employment received by Dalit men (see Nagbhushan 2020).
There were also other women-friendly practices such as provision of crèches on-site.
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Swaminathan, M. Contemporary Features of Rural Workers in India with a Focus on Gender and Caste. Ind. J. Labour Econ. 63, 67–79 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41027-020-00210-z
- Women workers
- Village study
- Work participation
- Time-use survey
- Agricultural employment
- Gender gap in wage rates