Decoding Declining Labour Force Participation of Indian Women

by Gayatri Dewan

We conducted the 15th Consumer Pyramids Research Seminar on 28 Oct 2021 at 06.30 PM IST.

Ashwini Deshpande from Ashoka University and Jitendra Singh from Ashoka University presented:

Dropping Out, Being Pushed out or Can’t Get In? Decoding Declining Labour Force Participation of Indian Women

Their paper was discussed by Marianne Bertrand from University of Chicago Booth School of Business

You can view a recording of the webinar here.

About the Event

Prof Ashwini Deshpande and Jitendra Singh from Ashoka University presented new results from their research on female labour force participation in India using the CPHS data to an enthusiastic audience of over 200 participants on the 28th of October, 2021. The presentation lasted for nearly an hour. Their work throws fresh light on the behaviour of females in the labour markets in India.

The majority of past studies have focused on supply side explanations for declining female labour force participation (FLFP) in India. Going beyond the predominant explanations of gender norms and social restrictions faced by women, the authors highlighted the role of demand side factors, and examined the extent to which societal norms explained declining FLFP rates.

Women exhibited multiple movements in and out of the labour force, and the majority of women experienced more than 1 transition. The authors posited demand side explanations such as inaccessible or inadequate jobs for women as the reason for this phenomenon. Societal constraints, which are typically taken as explanatory factors, were constant during this period.

Prof Marianne Bertrand, serving as the discussant for the paper emphasized the importance of gender norms. With respect to the authors’ explanations for the entry-exit movements, Prof Bertrand proposed alternative specifications to draw out further insights, and recommended additional questions on the motherhood penalty and India’s maternity policy for the authors to explore.

The webinar ended with an engaging discussion between Deshpande and Bertrand and then also between Deshpande and the audience.


The stubbornly low and declining level of labour force participation rate (LFPR) of Indian women has prompted a great deal of attention with a focus on factors constraining womens labour supply. Using 12 rounds of a high frequency household panel survey, we demonstrate volatility in Indian womens labour market engagement, as they exit and (re)enter the labour force multiple times over short period for reasons unrelated to marriage, child-birth, or change in household income. We demonstrate how these frequent transitions exacerbate the issue of measurement of female LFPR. Women elsewhere in the world face a motherhood penalty in the form of adverse labour market outcomes after the first childbirth. We evaluate the motherhood penalty in the Indian context and find that mothers with new children have a lower base level of LFPR, but there is no sharp decline around the time of childbirth. Blinder-Oaxaca decomposition of determinants of female LFPR suggests that none of the total fall (10 percentage points) in our study period is explained by a change in supply-side demographic characteristics. We suggest that frequent transitions, as well as fall in LFPR, are consistent with the demand-side constraints, viz., that womens participation is falling due unavailability of steady gainful employment. The high unemployment rate and industry-wise composition of total employment provide suggestive evidence that womens participation is falling as women are likely to be displaced from employment by male workers. We show that womens employment is likely to suffer more than mens due to negative economic shocks, as was seen during the fallout of demonetisation of 86 percent of Indian currency in 2016. Our analysis contests the prominent narrative that women are voluntarily dropping out of the labour force due to an increase in household income and conservative social norms. Our results suggest that India needs to focus more on creating jobs for women to retain them in the labour force.

About the CPHS Research Seminar Series

The CPHS Research Seminar Series features work based on the Consumer Pyramids Household Survey. It is a platform for researchers to receive critical and technical feedback from accomplished peers. It is also meant to engage with the larger research community who may gain from technical discussions. You can find all previously presented work on the Events Section of our website. You can also view a recording of every seminar so far at the CPHS Research Seminar Playlist on our YouTube channel.

The Consumer Pyramids Household Survey is India’s largest regular household survey and the world’s largest household panel survey. CPHS has collected data on over 232,000 households and 1.19 million individuals surveyed since 2014. The survey collects information on household demographics, individual identities, employment, health status, financial inclusion, individual and household incomes, consumption expenditures, ownership of assets and intentions to buy them, household amenities and consumer sentiments. Income and expenses data are a monthly time-series since January 2014.

Record-level data from all 23 Waves of CPHS is available through a subscription service. Data from the May - Aug 2021 Wave of CPHS was released to subscribers on September 01, 2021. Please visit our website to learn more about CPHS and how to gain access to the record-level data.

If you have written a paper using CPHS and would like to present in the Seminar Series, please write to Kaushik Krishnan at

Use of CMIE Product implies acceptance of the usage agreement & privacy policy   ♦   FAQs   ♦  Diagnosis