Can we apply the research of the Nobel winner in Economics to India? - Hindustan Times

Can we apply the research of the Nobel winner in Economics to India?

Oct 21, 2023 09:21 AM IST

Here's where Claudia Goldin's arguments stand in a country like ours where home-based work is substantial

Narratives related to women, work and the labour force form the backdrop to discussions on all aspects of the economy. The more one questions fundamental assumptions, such as what is work, the more complex the investigation becomes. The brilliant, deep, and immensely useful work of the recent Nobel laureate Claudia Goldin does just that.

Nobel laureate Claudia Goldin(X/@NobelPrize) PREMIUM
Nobel laureate Claudia Goldin(X/@NobelPrize)

Goldin, who won the prize in Economics this year has many useful comments on the entry and exit of women from the labour force, which can be largely bunched under what is called domestic duties, including childcare.

While young men and women may come out of university with similar qualifications, women get tethered along the way to their reproductive roles, but in countries like India and more so in Africa among other continents, workspace and home are often the same.

Globally, there are 260 million home-based workers. The overwhelming majority (86%) of home-based workers are in developing and emerging countries, the number in developed countries (35 million) is substantial. Asia and the Pacific, which has the largest population among the regions, accounts for 65% of home-based workers. Globally, and in developing and emerging countries, most home-based workers (84% and 82%, respectively) are in non-agricultural work. They produce goods which are marketable in addition to doing household work as well as taking care of children.

In countries like India, where men, women and children engage in productive activities which are non-monetised, it is difficult to pin down economic activity. Monetised or non-monetised work does not offer a sufficient classification system and yet, if work is defined narrowly as that which contributes to the GDP, then maybe the measures would be easier to handle. I suggest, therefore, that comparing and adapting Goldin's arguments, proposals and analyses on female labour supply and its economic and non-economic characteristics, to the Indian scenario is fraught with difficulties. Work which yields a tradeable product or service, not valued in monetary terms appears in countries like India in innumerable forms and is often not definable. Thus, the kind of neat categories that create partition in terms of labour and market, cannot be used in countries like India.

One remarkable exciting similarity between the landscape that she refers to, i.e, the developed countries, and those in South Asia and Africa is that young women are not only educating themselves, but they are also walking through every possible gate that is open to them. For instance, women are all set to play a key role in the operations of the modern and high-speed RapidX train.

Goldin has rightly said ..., “Young women in the late 1960s and 1970s began to have more realistic expectations of their future employment and started to make educational investments that could lead to longer and fulfilling careers “(Goldin 2006). The "quiet revolution" that resulted further expanded women's employment. Together with the improved ability of young women to control the timing of childbirth (with the contraceptive "pill"), the marriage age rose and births were delayed. Motherhood came later in life and its impact on employment and careers was lessened.

Goldin mentions marriage as a barrier to the slow progress in equality between men and women in the labour market. However once again the difference between "us” and “them” emerges. According to data presented by Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), a Manchester-based global research-policy network, on the percentage distribution of home-based workers by marital status in India, the data shows 73.6% of married women are home-based workers in comparison to single (14%) and divorced or widowed (7%). The institutional framework for economic activity is very different, thus work does not always require the woman to leave home or not have children.

However, Goldin's recognition of the challenge to understanding the “economy”, offers a great opportunity for others to turn the torch towards counting correctly.

Devaki Jain is the former director of the Institute of Social Studies Trust and a member of the erstwhile south commission chaired by Dr Julius Nyerere. She has also been a member of many Indian and UN-sponsored expert groups on rectifying statistical data. Her colleagues Shaista Nasreen and Eshitaa Mudgal have contributed to the article.

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