The Indian Labour Market: A Gender Perspective


This paper analyses the gender differentials in the employment status of women and men in India, despite laws for the ‘empowerment’ of women in the country.

The paper, published by UN Women on February 17, 2016, was written by Govindan Raveendran (an independent researcher and former additional director general of the government of India’s Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation). It defines people in the labour force as “…all those engaged in economic activities or workers and those seeking/available for work or unemployed.”

The author analyses trends in women’s participation in the labour force through data from the surveys on the Employment and Unemployment Situation in India undertaken in 1999-2000, 2004-2005, and 2011-2012, by the government of India’s National Sample Survey Office (now the National Statistical Organisation).

The 54-page paper contains an introduction (chapter 1), and then covers ‘Changes in population structure’ (chapter 2); ‘Child labour’ (chapter 3); ‘Gender differentials in the activity status of the adult population’ (chapter 4); ‘Age-specific labour force participation rates of adults’ (chapter 5); ‘Determinants of labour force participation and gender differentials’ (chapter 6); ‘Workers by activity status’ (chapter 7); ‘Workers by economic activity’ (chapter 8); ‘Workers by occupational categories’ (chapter 9); ‘Place of work of non-agricultural workers’ (chapter 10); ‘Gender differentials in quality of work’ (chapter 11); and a conclusion (chapter 12).


  1. The Fifth Five Year Plan (1974-1978) marked a shift in the government’s approach to ‘women’s issues’ from ‘welfare’ to ‘development’.

  2. In 1999-2000, 37.4 per cent of India’s women were employed, 40.7 per cent were employed in 2004-2005, and 29.9 per cent in 2011-2012. Around 80 per cent of men were found to be employed in each of these years.

  3. The paper observes that the labour force participation rate (LFPR) of women in India has been declining over the years. UN websites define the labour force participation rate as “…the share of the working-age population who are active in the labour market, either by having a job or by seeking one (that is, either by being employed or unemployed).”

  4. The decline in the LFPR of women between 2004-05 and 2011-12 is often attributed to more young people enrolling in education. However, research by K. P. Kannan (a Kerala-based economist) and Gowrishankaran Raveendran (a Colombo-based scholar), quoted in the paper, shows that only 27 per cent of the decline was due to an increase in women’s attendance in educational institutions. Other contributing factors included the “…diminishing self-employment opportunities for men, leading to a greater number of women losing their status as unpaid family labour; loss of employment as casual labour in agriculture, which pushed them back into the households; and men moving from household agriculture and manufacturing to casual labour in construction."

  5. The main source of employment for both men and women in India continues to be agriculture. But, the paper notes, its share in employment has significantly reduced over the years. In 1999-2000, 52.7 per cent of India’s men and 75.4 per cent of women worked in agriculture. This fell to 48.6 per cent of men and 72.8 per cent of women in 2004-05, and to 42.5 per cent of men and 62 per cent of women in 2011-12.

  6. The paper states that women are mainly employed in ‘low-level’ occupations. In 2011-12, 8.3 per cent of male workers were legislators, senior officials, and managers, but only 3.8 per cent of women held similar posts. About 40 per cent of women and 28 per cent of men were employed as skilled workers in agriculture and fisheries.

  7. The daily wages paid to women are significantly lower than those paid to men. In 2011-12, men in rural areas earned an average wage of Rs. 188.95 per day, while women earned Rs. 120.62. The wage rates in urban areas were Rs. 404.89 for men and Rs 319.32 for women.

  8. Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe workers wad the lowest wage rates among all the categories of workers in each of the three years.

  9. Educated women with qualifications at or above the graduate level were the worst affected in terms of employment, notes to the paper. Their unemployment rate in 2011-12 was 14.6 per cent as compared to 5.8 per cent for similarly qualified men. This, the paper reasons, is because they are unable to find jobs consistent with their qualifications.

  10. In all the three survey years, nearly 80 per cent of women outside the labour force were engaged in domestic duties such as looking after the needs of other household members. The majority of men outside the labour force – 57.1 per cent in 1999-2000, 59.3 per cent in 2004-05 and 66.3 per cent in 2011-12 – were students in these years.

    Focus and Factoids by Sruthi Venkateswaran.


Govindan Raveendran


UN Women


17 Feb, 2016