IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

What explains the stagnation of female labor force participation in urban India?


  • Stephan Klasen

    (Georg-August University Göttingen)

  • Janneke Pieters

    (Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA))


We study the surprisingly low level and stagnation of female labor force participation rates in urban India between 1987 and 2009. Despite rising growth, fertility decline, and rising wages and education levels, women's labor force participation stagnated at around 18%. Using five large cross-sectional micro surveys, we find that a combination of supply and demand effects have contributed to this stagnation. The main supply side factors were rising household incomes, husband's education, stigmas against educated women engaging in menial work, and falling selectivity of highly educated women. On the demand side, employment in sectors appropriate for educated women grew less than the supply of educated workers, leading many women to withdraw from the labor force.

Suggested Citation

  • Stephan Klasen & Janneke Pieters, 2013. "What explains the stagnation of female labor force participation in urban India?," Courant Research Centre: Poverty, Equity and Growth - Discussion Papers 146, Courant Research Centre PEG.
  • Handle: RePEc:got:gotcrc:146

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Chin, Aimee, 2005. "Can redistributing teachers across schools raise educational attainment? Evidence from Operation Blackboard in India," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 78(2), pages 384-405, December.
    2. Abhijit Banerjee & Esther Duflo & Maitreesh Ghatak & Jeanne Lafortune, 2013. "Marry for What? Caste and Mate Selection in Modern India," American Economic Journal: Microeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 5(2), pages 33-72, May.
    3. Kristin Mammen & Christina Paxson, 2000. "Women's Work and Economic Development," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 14(4), pages 141-164, Fall.
    4. Oster, Emily & Steinberg, Bryce Millett, 2013. "Do IT service centers promote school enrollment? Evidence from India," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 104(C), pages 123-135.
    5. Bertrand, Marianne & Hanna, Rema & Mullainathan, Sendhil, 2010. "Affirmative action in education: Evidence from engineering college admissions in India," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 94(1-2), pages 16-29, February.
    6. Tam, Henry, 2011. "U-shaped female labor participation with economic development: Some panel data evidence," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 110(2), pages 140-142, February.
    7. Robert Jensen, 2012. "Do Labor Market Opportunities Affect Young Women's Work and Family Decisions? Experimental Evidence from India," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 127(2), pages 753-792.
    8. Pieters, Janneke, 2010. "Growth and Inequality in India: Analysis of an Extended Social Accounting Matrix," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 38(3), pages 270-281, March.
    9. Bradley T. Heim, 2007. "The Incredible Shrinking Elasticities: Married Female Labor Supply, 1978–2002," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 42(4).
    10. Robert W. Fairlie, 2003. "An Extension of the Blinder-Oaxaca Decomposition Technique to Logit and Probit Models," Working Papers 873, Economic Growth Center, Yale University.
    11. Afridi, Farzana & Mukhopadhyay, Abhiroop & Sahoo, Soham, 2012. "Female Labour Force Participation and Child Education in India: The Effect of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme," IZA Discussion Papers 6593, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    12. Mukesh Eswaran & Bharat Ramaswami & Wilima Wadhwa, 2013. "Status, Caste, and the Time Allocation of Women in Rural India," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 61(2), pages 311-333.
    13. Blundell, Richard & Macurdy, Thomas, 1999. "Labor supply: A review of alternative approaches," Handbook of Labor Economics,in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 27, pages 1559-1695 Elsevier.
    14. Dreze, Jean & Sen, Amartya, 2002. "India: Development and Participation," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, edition 2, number 9780199257492, June.
    15. Goldin, Claudia, 1992. "Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780195072709, June.
    16. Rosenzweig, Mark R & Stark, Oded, 1989. "Consumption Smoothing, Migration, and Marriage: Evidence from Rural India," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(4), pages 905-926, August.
    17. Kijima, Yoko, 2006. "Why did wage inequality increase? Evidence from urban India 1983-99," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 81(1), pages 97-117, October.
    18. Gaddis, Isis & Pieters, Janneke, 2012. "Trade Liberalization and Female Labor Force Participation: Evidence from Brazil," IZA Discussion Papers 6809, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    19. Heckman, James, 2013. "Sample selection bias as a specification error," Applied Econometrics, Publishing House "SINERGIA PRESS", vol. 31(3), pages 129-137.
    20. David E. Bloom, 2011. "Population Dynamics in India and Implications for Economic Growth," PGDA Working Papers 6511, Program on the Global Demography of Aging.
    21. Azam, Mehtabul & Kingdon, Geeta Gandhi, 2013. "Are Girls the Fairer Sex in India? Revisiting Intra-Household Allocation of Education Expenditure," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 42(C), pages 143-164.
    22. Anderson, Siwan & Eswaran, Mukesh, 2009. "What determines female autonomy? Evidence from Bangladesh," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(2), pages 179-191, November.
    23. Isis Gaddis & Stephan Klasen, 2014. "Economic development, structural change, and women’s labor force participation:," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 27(3), pages 639-681, July.
    24. Klonner, Stefan & Oldiges , Christian, 2014. "Safety Net for India's Poor or Waste of Public Funds? Poverty and Welfare in the Wake of the World's Largest Job Guarantee Program," Working Papers 0564, University of Heidelberg, Department of Economics.
    25. Stephan Klasen & Francesca Lamanna, 2009. "The Impact of Gender Inequality in Education and Employment on Economic Growth: New Evidence for a Panel of Countries," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 15(3), pages 91-132.
    26. Geeta Gandhi Kingdon, 2007. "The progress of school education in India," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 23(2), pages 168-195, Summer.
    27. Oaxaca, Ronald, 1973. "Male-Female Wage Differentials in Urban Labor Markets," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 14(3), pages 693-709, October.
    28. Ai, Chunrong & Norton, Edward C., 2003. "Interaction terms in logit and probit models," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 80(1), pages 123-129, July.
    29. Nancy Qian, 2008. "Missing Women and the Price of Tea in China: The Effect of Sex-Specific Earnings on Sex Imbalance," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 123(3), pages 1251-1285.
    30. Maitreyi Bordia Das, and Sonalde Desai, 2003. "Why are educated women less likely to be employed in India? Testing competing hypotheses," Social Protection and Labor Policy and Technical Notes 27868, The World Bank.
    31. Kucera, David & Roncolato, Leanne & von Uexkull, Erik, 2012. "Trade Contraction and Employment in India and South Africa during the Global Crisis," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 40(6), pages 1122-1134.
    32. Siwan Anderson, 2003. "Why Dowry Payments Declined with Modernization in Europe but Are Rising in India," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 111(2), pages 269-310, April.
    33. Stephan Klasen & Janneke Pieters, 2015. "What Explains the Stagnation of Female Labor Force Participation in Urban India?," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 29(3), pages 449-478.
    34. Orazio Attanasio & Hamish Low & Virginia Sánchez-Marcos, 2005. "Female Labor Supply As Insurance Against Idiosyncratic Risk," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 3(2-3), pages 755-764, 04/05.
    35. Alwyn Young, 1995. "The Tyranny of Numbers: Confronting the Statistical Realities of the East Asian Growth Experience," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 110(3), pages 641-680.
    36. Jere R. Behrman & Andrew D. Foster & Mark R. Rosenzweig & Prem Vashishtha, 1999. "Women's Schooling, Home Teaching, and Economic Growth," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 107(4), pages 682-714, August.
    37. David Lam & Suzanne Duryea, 1999. "Effects of Schooling on Fertility, Labor Supply, and Investments in Children, with Evidence from Brazil," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 34(1), pages 160-192.
    38. Stephan Klasen & Claudia Wink, 2003. ""Missing Women": Revisiting The Debate," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 9(2-3), pages 263-299.
    39. Francine D. Blau & Lawrence M. Kahn, 2007. "Changes in the Labor Supply Behavior of Married Women: 1980–2000," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 25, pages 393-438.
    40. Geeta Gandhi Kingdon, 2007. "The progress of school education in India," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 23(2), pages 168-195, Summer.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item


    female labor force participation; education; India;

    JEL classification:

    • J20 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - General
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination
    • I25 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Education and Economic Development
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:got:gotcrc:146. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Dominik Noe). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.