Govt’s job report under-counts women’s participation in labour force

Tina Edwin New Delhi | Updated on July 02, 2019

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The recently released report of the Periodic Labour Force Survey by the National Statistical Office seems to be at odds with the evidence from the ground on the participation of women in the labour force in India’s large cities.

It underestimates female labour force participation rate in many of the larger cities, particularly in the North and the East, giving the impression that women in these cities, in general, are not engaged in any economic activity, even on a part-time basis, and are not seeking out employment. The workforce participation rate also appears much lower than those estimated in the 2011 Census for some cities.

Consider Rajkot, a bustling industrial city in Gujarat, for instance. The Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) report estimates the female labour force participation rate at a low 3.4 per cent in 2017-18. The report estimates the population of females aged 15 years or more at 6.34 lakh, which means that about 21,500 of them were in the labour force. It also claimed that these women were in regular employment. None were reported as self-employed or even engaged in a family enterprise. More importantly, no female aged 15 years and above had reported to be unemployed or seeking employment in the city.



The corresponding LFPR for males in the city was estimated at 74.2 per cent. Curiously, the report also mixed up the gender split of the city’s population, it estimated that the city had a favourable sex ratio – 8.31 lakh females and 8.19 lakh males. The 2011 Census had estimated the sex ratio for Rajkot municipal corporation and outgrowth areas at 908 and the female worker population at 61,541.

Similarly, the LFPR for females aged 15 years and above for Faridabad and Ghaziabad in the National Capital Region was estimated at 7.3 per cent and 7.9 per cent, respectively. It estimated that 92.7 per cent and 92 per cent of women in Faridabad and Ghaziabad were not in the labour force. The report showed only 0.2 per cent of females in the labour force in Ghaziabad were self-employed and the corresponding number for Faridabad was 1.8 per cent. Further, no female was shown as employed on a casual basis in Ghaziabad while just 0.9 per cent were casual workers in Faridabad. Given the number of big, small and unorganised units in both these cities, which employ women, on regular as well as a casual basis, these numbers do not seem credible.

The LFPR for females in the metropolitan cities, estimated by the report, looks relatively more credible but some numbers would raise doubts. For Delhi, the LFPR for females is estimated at 17.5 per cent. For Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai and Bengaluru, it was estimated at 20.4 per cent, 21.3 per cent, 22.1 per cent and 22.2 per cent, respectively. Now consider the data for Delhi. The report estimated the share of self-employed at 2.5 per cent, including 0.4 per cent who work in the family enterprises, casual workers at 0.4 per cent and regular workers at 12.8 per cent of the female population aged 15 years and above.


At the 2011 Census population, that translates to 1,44,558 self-employed women, 7,40,134 in working regular jobs and 23,129 as casual labour. Delhi has a vast population of women who run independent beauty parlours and boutiques, assist their husbands in running small businesses and shops and some even run larger businesses of their own, give tuition classes to students, teach music and dance and so on – all which should ideally qualify as self-employed. Surely, the number engaged in such activities would exceed the 1.45 lakh estimated in the PLFS report. Similarly, there is an army of women who work as part-time domestic helps, baby sitters, home nurses and construction workers. Ideally, they too should get counted as casual labour.

So, it appears that the statistical machinery is under-counting the contribution of women in the economy. It is also very likely that their involvement in the family enterprise is not being recognised either by the respondents in the survey or the enumerator.


Published on July 02, 2019

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