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Bursting the Bubble of India’s ‘rising’ Women Workforce

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1 Apr 2019
Study finds younger women in India do not have better jobs than their mothers

Study finds younger women in India do not have better jobs than their mothers 

India brims with pride for being the fastest growing economy in the world, clocking a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate of 6-7% over the past five years. Estimates predict that this number could more than triple to a whopping 27% if the women were treated on par with men. Today, a mere 26.97% of India’s women are in the workforce, and our gender discrimination is so high that we rank an abysmal 127 among the 189 countries in the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP’s) Gender Inequality Index 2018. Do India’s young women fare better than their mothers when it comes to getting a job? A recent study by researchers at the Shailesh J. Mehta School of Management (SJMSOM) at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, has some alarming findings.

The study, published in the International Journal of Social Economics, looked at ‘intergenerational occupational mobility’,  or the kind of occupations India’s young women land in, compared to their mothers. It found that this value in India stood at about 71.2%, which means that about 71.2% of daughters in India have a different occupation than their mothers. Also, there is a catch. “Daughters today are in occupations that are socially and often economically downward, compared to that of their mothers”, reveals Prof Ashish Singh, a faculty at SJMSOM, who led the study.

The researchers used the data from the “Youth in India: Situation and Needs” survey conducted by the International Institute of Population Sciences, Mumbai, and the Population Council, New Delhi, in the year 2006-2007. The survey collected responses from 50,848 married and unmarried young men and women, aged between 15 and 24 years, in both rural and urban settings of the states of Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and erstwhile Andhra Pradesh.

The findings of the study indicated that about 39% of the mothers and 64% of the daughters were not working, and this percentage was higher in the urban areas compared to the rural areas. The researchers attribute this observation to two reasons—firstly, husbands in urban areas provide financial stability in the family, discouraging females from going out and earning, and secondly, since many young girls pursue higher education in urban areas, they do not yet join the workforce. Also, about 80% of the daughters born to non-working mothers, ended up not working.

Most mothers worked either as farmers or agricultural labourers. However, 70% of their daughters ended up being homemakers. “This mobility significantly contributes to the falling female labour force participation rates in India and increasing overall mobility rate”, say the authors on this trend. Interestingly, 92% of the daughters whose mothers were in administrative or managerial occupations end up working in different occupation categories lower than that of their mothers, thus contributing to the overall downward mobility.

“The downward mobility in occupation among women may be linked to the downward mobility in education among women in India”, says Prof Singh, explaining the findings of the study. “Many women in India have seen their mothers working as housewives, in spite of them being educated, which leads these young women to believe that even if she attains a certain level of education, she is finally going to end up being a housewife and therefore she doesn't invest in education much”, he adds.

The researchers also studied how occupational mobility was affected by the caste and the state to which these women belonged. They found that women from historically disadvantaged castes like Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) had lower upward occupational mobility as compared to those from advantaged castes. Besides, young women from poorer states of Bihar and Jharkhand had much lower upward occupational mobility compared to those from prosperous states like Tamil Nadu. The researchers attribute both these findings to the pervasive inequality of opportunities for women from disadvantaged backgrounds.

So, what is the country missing by leaving so many women behind? “The significant downward mobility can have serious social and economic repercussions. It can lead to higher levels of gender-based inequality of opportunities, which in turn will lead to worsening of gender-based economic inequalities in the country,” warns Prof Singh.

The researchers also point out some remedial measures to increase occupational mobility among women. “We need policies that make educational and financial schemes, aimed at girls, more accessible for a larger segment of the society”, suggests Prof Singh. Besides, he says that society needs to be sensitised about sharing household work between men and women, which could lead to positive outcomes for working women.

“Childcare facilities at the workplace for women with young children, proper maternity leave, protection of employment and career advancement during and after maternity leave, and promotion of policies aimed at bringing those women back into the workforce, who had left due to pregnancy, can help in a big way,” concludes Prof Singh.