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(In)visibility, care and cultural barriers: the size and shape of women’s work in India


  • Deshpande, Ashwini
  • Kabeer, Naila


Based on primary data from a large household survey in seven districts in West Bengal in India, this paper analyses the reasons underlying low labor force participation of women. In particular, we try to disentangle the intertwined strands of choice, constraints posed by domestic work and care responsibilities, and the predominant understanding of cultural norms as factors explaining the low labor force participation as measured by involvement in paid work. We document the fuzziness of the boundary between domestic work and unpaid (and therefore invisible) economic work that leads to mis-measurement of women’s work and suggest methods to improve measurement. We find that being primarily responsible for domestic chores lower the probability of “working”, after accounting for all the conventional factors. We also document how, for women, being out of paid work is not synonymous with care or domestic work, as they are involved in expenditure saving activities. We also find that religion and visible markers such as veiling are not significant determinants of the probability of working. Our data shows substantial unmet demand for work. Given that women are primarily responsible for domestic chores, we also document that women express a demand for work that would be compatible with household chores.

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  • Deshpande, Ashwini & Kabeer, Naila, 2019. "(In)visibility, care and cultural barriers: the size and shape of women’s work in India," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 100992, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  • Handle: RePEc:ehl:lserod:100992

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Maitreyi Bordia Das, and Sonalde Desai, 2003. "Why are educated women less likely to be employed in India? Testing competing hypotheses," Social Protection Discussion Papers and Notes 27868, The World Bank.
    2. Neff, Daniel & Sen, Kunal & Kling, Veronika, 2012. "The Puzzling Decline in Rural Women's Labor Force Participation in India: A Reexamination," GIGA Working Papers 196, GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies.
    3. Kapsos, Steven. & Bourmpoula, Evangelia. & Silberman, Andrea., 2014. "Why is female labour force participation declining so sharply in India?," ILO Working Papers 994949190702676, International Labour Organization.
    4. Klasen, Stephan & Pieters, Janneke, 2012. "Push or Pull? Drivers of Female Labor Force Participation during India's Economic Boom," IZA Discussion Papers 6395, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    5. Indrani Mazumdar & Neetha N, 2011. "Gender Dimensions: Employment Trends in India, 1993-94 to 2009-10," Working Papers id:4502, eSocialSciences.
    6. Maendra Dev, S., 2015. "India Development Report 2015," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199459452, Decembrie.
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    Cited by:

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    4. Maiti, Surya Nath & Pakrashi, Debayan & Saha, Sarani & Smyth, Russell, 2022. "Don't judge a book by its cover: The role of intergroup contact in reducing prejudice in conflict settings," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 202(C), pages 533-548.

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    More about this item


    women; gender; labor force participation; India;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination
    • J21 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Labor Force and Employment, Size, and Structure
    • J40 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - General
    • B54 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Current Heterodox Approaches - - - Feminist Economics

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