Who wins if women don't get to work?

Despite India's rapid economic growth, female employment is strikingly low. In her IAST Distinguished Lecture in December, Harvard's Rohini Pande argued that women are being held back by stubborn gender norms, to tho benefit of rural elites. Encouragingly, this professor of international political eeonomy also points to evidence that public policy can be successful in changing power dynamics.

Across the world, men are more likely to have jobs than women. But the lowest rates of female labor force participation (FLFP) are not concentrated in the poorest countries. Instead, says Rohini, charting these rates against income produces a U-shaped graph. "At low Incomes, as in sub-Saharan Africa, both men and women work. As countries get richer, women seem to stop working. Then as incomes continue to rise, the hopeful view is that women will re-enter the labor force." 

"When US women earn more than their husbands, they understand their income compared to their tax return and men overstate theirs"

The typical narrative on the U-shaped curve, says Rohini, is that economic growth is accompanied by structural transformation.

"At first, both men and women exit agriculture, but men tend to be first in line for non-agricultural work. As male incomes rise outside agriculture, women no longer work out of necessity; instead of bad breaking labor, women may choose to engage in domestic work, childrearing, etc. In on even richer context, women are more likely to enter higher educotion and satisfying Jobs. Households may also have preferences-such as holidays and consumer goods - that require two incomes. And as preferences change, norms may adjust so chat traditional gender roles come to be seen as outdates."


Despite increases in FLFP in richer countries, a key concern is that women are not advancing into high-skilled professions at the same rate as men. "If men are first in line for non-agricultural jobs at the beginning of the structural transformation, women may not be able to catch up in the long run. This appears to be a factor in sectorial inequality, even in rich countries. One explanation is that norms have lagged behind changes in FLFP and legal structure."


Extract of the IAST Connect #14, Spring 2019

Read the whole article

Add new comment


  • Rohini Pande