Why Is Female Labour Force Participation So Low in India?
In this article, we analyse the reasons for low female labour force participation (FLFP) across approximately 14,000 households in the Indian urban clusters of Dhanbad, Indore, Patna and Varanasi. We argue that expectations placed upon women to carry out household duties generate incentives for them to largely seek part-time work near their homes, due to what we term as flexibility and proximity of work. While this characterises most agricultural employment, this is not true of urban employment. Using this framework, we argue that requirements to travel large distances for most jobs put prohibitive costs on women entering the labour market. To empirically test our claims, we conduct a survey experiment on the female respondents who are currently unemployed in our sample to elicit labour market preferences. Our results are striking—women are 12 to 23 percentage points less likely to express a preference for a suitable job if they have to travel one hour to work. The magnitude of these effects is far greater than the impact of the primary wage earner of the household losing their job or other family members assisting the woman in household duties. We conclude the article by discussing the implications for policy.