Journal Article
Norms that matter

Exploring the distribution of women's work between income generation, expenditure-saving, and unpaid domestic responsibilities in India

Based on primary data from a large household survey in seven districts in West Bengal in India, this study analyses the reasons underlying low labour force participation of women. In developing countries, women who are engaged in unpaid economic work in family enterprises are often not counted as workers, whereas the men are. We show that for women, not being in paid work is not synonymous with not being in the labour force. 

Women are often involved in expenditure saving activities — i.e. productive work within the family, over and above domestic chores and care work. We document the fuzziness of the boundary between domestic work and unpaid (and therefore invisible) productive work that leads to mismeasurement of women’s work and suggest methods to improve measurement. Counting women’s expenditure-saving activities yields a substantially higher estimate of women’s participation in economic work. 

On social norms, we show that religion and visible markers such as veiling are not significant determinants of the probability of being in paid work. We find that being primarily responsible for domestic chores lowers the probability of ‘working’, after accounting for all the conventional factors. Our data shows substantial unmet demand for paid work. Given that women are primarily responsible for domestic chores, we find that women express a demand for work that would be compatible with household chores. 

We demonstrate the existence of ‘virtuous cycles’ within families: a history of working women in the family (mother or mother-in-law ever worked) increases the probability of being in paid work between 18 and 21 percentage points. This suggests that the positive effects of increasing women’s labour force participation today are likely to have positive multiplier effects on the prospects for work in future generations of women.

Journal Article