Working-age women engaged in full-time domestic duties, says PLFS 2021-22 - Hindustan Times
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Working-age women engaged in full-time domestic duties, says PLFS 2021-22

ByHindustan Times
Jul 27, 2023 11:33 AM IST

This article is authored by Bidisha Mondal, Research fellow, IWWAGE-Lead.

The female labour force participation rate in India stays at 24.8% with the participation rate being at 27.2% in rural areas and 18.8% in urban areas according to the latest round of Periodic Labour Force Survey conducted in 2021-22. The low female labour force participation is often largely attributed to their high amount of domestic and care responsibilities at home. A large proportion of women aged between 15-59 years – technically the working age group – remain engaged in full time household duties. The shares are respectively 46% in rural areas and 57% in urban areas. The corresponding shares of men are less than 1% in both rural and urban areas.

Working women (Representative)(Shutterstock) PREMIUM
Working women (Representative)(Shutterstock)

The higher share of engagement in full-time domestic work among urban women in comparison to their rural counterparts often occurs due to the higher absorption of rural women in agricultural activities and urban women staying away from meagrely paid informal jobs. However, the whopping share of women tied up in full-time unpaid domestic work and staying out of labour force in rural and urban areas both, particularly in their most productive age, is a concern from policy perspective. The unpaid domestic work includes domestic duties and other activities like collection of goods (vegetables, roots, firewood, cattle feed etc), sewing, tailoring, weaving etc for household use.

It is well established that the predominance of women in unpaid domestic work often constrains women’s workforce participation. However, women’s engagement in unpaid household work is related to various factors like social and religious norms, failure of market and the state to extend essential provisioning for care and domestic assistance, and low opportunity cost of unpaid work due to low labour market returns for women.

The PLFS data reveals that among the working age women, the share of those involved in full-time household work is much higher in case of married women as compared to others. Marriage as an institution often endorses the traditional gender roles in Indian households and married women are observed to prioritise domestic duties over participation in economic activities. Alongside, often married women face more cultural restrictions in engagements outside home, confining them to household work more, as compared to other women.

The PLFS data also show that as the number of children in a household increases, women from those households tend to be engaged more in domestic activities, as compared to others. Women being the primary care-giver, childcare, comprising both the direct childcare and supervisory responsibilities, is the most significant part of women’s unpaid care work. Thus, a high quantum of childcare duties often restricts women’s participation outside their domestic work. Again, the age of 24-35 years being the time of life transition in terms of marriage, childbearing, the share of women in this age-group in full-time domestic work is much higher as compared to others.

In addition, the data reveals that whereas 45% of working age women belonging to nuclear family structure are engaged only in domestic duties, the share rises up to 55% in case of women belonging to joint family structure. This happens not only due to higher domestic duties associated with joint family structure, but also because of the conservative cultural norms being upheld more strictly there in comparison to nuclear families, restricting women more to domestic work.

Graph 1 (Source: PLFS 2021-22)
Graph 1 (Source: PLFS 2021-22)
Graph 2 (Source: PLFS 2021-22)
Graph 2 (Source: PLFS 2021-22)

The figures indicate that even among women with substantially higher qualifications - graduation, post-graduation and above - a high share of 52% are engaged in full time unpaid domestic work. This also reflects dearth of suitable opportunities in the secondary and tertiary sector for educated women and their labour market returns remain low. The opportunity cost of being a full-time homemaker for women in such cases are also lower and hence perpetuates the challenge of attracting women into the workforce.

The above findings reiterate the prevalence of restrictive social norms leading to disproportionately high share of household responsibilities on women. The marital norms are more constraining for women in the age-group of 24-35 years and this gets reflected in their even higher engagement in domestic duties as compared to others in working age group. The imperative of providing care infrastructures and facilities by the market and the state to free women’s time from domestic work and engage them in a more productive manner, increasing investments in early childhood development facilities and providing universal creche facilities, is of crucial significance. Also, state provisioning of infrastructural amenities like clean water supply, subsidised fuel supply etc has the potential to reduce the load of domestic work on women. Enforcing the legal maternity entitlements beyond the formal sector employment, effective campaigns by the government and civil society organisations to address the restrictive social norms and simultaneously creating decent and gainful employment opportunities for women, is the need of the hour.

This article is authored by Bidisha Mondal, Research fellow, IWWAGE-Lead.

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