Gender gap in employment has put India behind China
Can India match the economic prowess of China? If yes, how? The question can be approached from multiple perspectives. On International Women’s Day, it is worthwhile to highlight the gender aspect of this question. One of the major reasons why China is ahead of India in economic terms is because more women add to the former’s national income.
Some basic statistics can prove this point. According to World Bank data, China’s per capita GDP was 2.4 times that of India in 2016. In terms of per worker GDP, this ratio is just 1.7. The gap between China’s lead over India in terms of per capita GDP and per worker GDP has been increasing in the last three decades.
In other words, almost one-third of the gap between per capita GDP of India and China is because fewer people are working in India than China. This is due to a much bigger gender gap in employment in India. The share of men aged 15 years and above who are employed in India and China was 76.4% and 73.5% respectively in 2017. For women, these numbers were 25.9% for India and 60.4% for China. While, the share of working women has been going down in both these countries since 1990s, the absolute numbers are much lower for India.
What explains the low and falling participation of women in India’s labour markets? There are no simple answers to this question. A Mint article by Stephan Klasen, professor of development economics at University of Gottingen, Germany provides a useful summary of economic research on this topic. It lists factors such as women dropping voluntarily from workforce with increasing family incomes, rising incompatibility of work and family duties as workplace moves away from home etc. The article also faults India’s development trajectory based on domestic consumption and high value service exports, which has not led to creation of jobs for women with medium levels of education such as those in China and even Bangladesh for this problem.
While these economic problems are important policy challenges, the role of social norms in bringing more and more women in the workforce is also important. More than half of Indian women still do not enjoy free mobility. Statistics from the fourth round of National Family and Health Survey (NFHS) show that more than half of Indian women do not even enjoy the freedom to go out of their homes without anybody’s company. Freedom of mobility is the most curtailed for younger women.
If a woman cannot even go out alone, it is difficult to imagine a situation where she can find a good job for herself. Catching up with China is not just about bringing in more FDI and promoting Make in India. It must also involve a concerted campaign against the entrenched patriarchal values in Indian society which do not allow our women to go out and work.