India’s female labor force participation rate (FLFPR) has remained low over the past decades, despite economic growth and demographic conditions such as fall in fertility and increase in female education. FLFPR among the working-age population
in rural areas has, in fact, declined from 52% to 38% between 1987 and 2011 (National Sample Survey). This is an alarming trend as equal economic participation by women is essential for the country to fully realize its ‘demographic dividend’ and boost economic growth. Besides, when women work, they have greater bargaining power within the household, which is known to positively impact their well-being and that of their families.
A majority of the literature that seeks to explain the reduction in FLFPR focuses on supply-side considerations like increases in real household incomes reducing the need for females to take up wage work, and limited growth of suitable employment opportunities for females. This study aims to understand the impact of structural transformation in agriculture – the sector where 80% of the female rural workforce is engaged (Census, 2011) – on female employment in rural India over time. There have been various changes in the structure of agriculture including declining size of landholdings, adoption of new technology, changing cropping patterns, and price volatility. The effects of these changes on the release of labor from the primary sector are likely to be gendered. It is important to look at their impact on female employment, especially during 1999-2011, when supply factors are unable to explain much of the decline in FLFPR. This is the first study that explores the dynamics between agriculture and female employment at the district level.
In particular, the research looks at the different roles of women in agriculture – managers and decision-makers on the farms; unpaid family helpers; and agricultural laborers. While the importance of farm management in India cannot be overstated, the role of female farm managers has largely been ignored. Households with women
managers increased from 8.3% in 2004 to 10.9% in 2011 (India Human Development Survey), mostly on account of male out-migration (Mahajan, 2018). Women farm managers generally tend to have poorer access to agricultural inputs (Peterman et al., 2014), and a large number of studies, mostly from Sub-Saharan
Africa, have found that productivity of female-managed farms is lower than those of male-managed farms. This study aims to measure profitability as an indicator of farm efficiency – taking into account both costs and quantities of inputs and outputs – of
female- and male-managed farms in India.
The study will involve econometric analysis of a database compiled from various government sources, with information on area under cultivation, production yield, mechanization, operational landholdings, land utilization, irrigation (sources, area covered), farm harvest prices, and fertilizer prices and consumption. Census data will also be used to look at the characteristics of the rural female workforce in Indian agriculture.