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(In)Visibility, Care and Cultural Barriers: The Size and Shape of Women’s Work in India

  • Economics Discussion Papers
  • May 2, 2019
  • Ashwini Deshpande,
  • Ashwini Deshpande, Naila Kabeer

Based on primary data from a large household survey in seven districts in West Bengal in India, this paper analyses the reasons underlying low labor force participation of women. In particular, we try to disentangle the intertwined strands of choice, constraints posed by domestic work and care responsibilities, and the predominant understanding of cultural norms as factors explaining the low labor force participation as measured by involvement in paid work. We document the fuzziness of the boundary between domestic work and unpaid (and therefore invisible) economic work that leads to mis-measurement of women's work and suggest methods to improve measurement. We find that being primarily responsible for domestic chores lower the probability of “working”, after accounting for all the conventional factors. We also document how, for women, being out of paid work is not synonymous with care or domestic work, as they are involved in expenditure saving activities. We also find that religion and visible markers such as veiling are not significant determinants of the probability of working. Our data shows substantial unmet demand for work. Given that women are primarily responsible for domestic chores, we also document that women express a demand for work that would be compatible with household chores.

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