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Poverty decline, agricultural wages, and non-farm employment in rural India : 1983-2004

  • Lanjouw, Peter
  • Murgai, Rinku

The authors analyze five rounds of National Sample Survey data covering 1983, 1987/8, 1993/4, 1999/0, and 2004/5 to explore the relationship between rural diversification and poverty. Poverty in rural India declined at a modest rate during this period. The authors provide region-level estimates that illustrate considerable geographic heterogeneity in this progress. Poverty estimates correlate well with region-level data on changes in agricultural wage rates. Agricultural labor remains the preserve of the uneducated and also to a large extent of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Although agricultural labor grew as a share of total economic activity over the first four rounds, it had fallen back to the levels observed at the beginning of the survey period by 2004. This all-India trajectory masks widely varying trends across states. During this period, the rural non-farm sector grew modestly, mainly between the last two survey rounds. Regular non-farm employment remains largely associated with education levels and social status that are rare among the poor. However, casual labor and self-employment in the non-farm sector reveal greater involvement by disadvantaged groups in 2004 than in the preceding rounds. The implication for poverty is not immediately clear - the poor may be pushed into low-return casual non-farm activities due to lack of opportunities in the agricultural sector rather than being pulled by high returns offered by the non-farm sector. Econometric estimates reveal that expansion of the non-farm sector is associated with falling poverty via two routes: a direct impact on poverty that is likely due to a pro-poor marginal incidence of non-farm employment expansion; and an indirect impact attributable to the positive effect of non-farm employment growth on agricultural wages. The analysis also confirms the important contribution to rural poverty reduction from agricultural productivity, availability of land, and consumption levels in proximate urban areas.

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Paper provided by The World Bank in its series Policy Research Working Paper Series with number 4858.

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Date of creation: 01 Mar 2009
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:4858
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  1. Datt, Gaurav & Ravallion, Martin, 1996. "Why have some Indian states done better than others at reducing rural poverty?," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1594, The World Bank.
  2. Ravallion, Martin & Datt, Gaurav, 1999. "When is growth pro-poor? Evidence from the diverse experiences of India's states," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2263, The World Bank.
  3. Ravallion, Martin & Datt, Gaurav, 2002. "Why has economic growth been more pro-poor in some states of India than others?," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(2), pages 381-400, August.
  4. Ravallion, Martin & Datt, Gaurav, 1996. "How Important to India's Poor Is the Sectoral Composition of Economic Growth?," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 10(1), pages 1-25, January.
  5. Foster, Andrew D & Rosenzweig, Mark R, 2004. "Agricultural Productivity Growth, Rural Economic Diversity, and Economic Reforms: India, 1970-2000," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 52(3), pages 509-42, April.
  6. (No last name available), Himanshu, 2013. "Poverty and Food Security in India," ADB Economics Working Paper Series 369, Asian Development Bank.
  7. Yoko Kijima & Lanjouw, Peter, 2003. "Poverty in India during the1990s - a regional perspective," Policy Research Working Paper Series 3141, The World Bank.
  8. Gaurav Datt & Valerie Kozel & Martin Ravallion, 2003. "A Model-Based Assessment of India's Progress in Reducing Poverty in the 1990s," Monash Economics Working Papers archive-32, Monash University, Department of Economics.
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