Study finds that women with secondary education are deterred by ‘income effect’ — being married into families with high incomes.
New Delhi: A married woman with secondary education (up to class 10) in India is less likely to be working than an illiterate married woman, researchers from the University of Maryland in the US have found.
The researchers have based their findings from data of the India Human Development Surveys, a collaboration between the university and the National Council of Applied Economic Research.
The study was published in the journal Demographic Research in March 2018.
It found that up to the secondary level, the increase in education qualifications reduced the likelihood of employment. Only for women who obtained more than secondary-level education, did the rates of employment go up, and even then, they are lower for women in households with higher incomes.
Higher education would mean increased skill set, and thus greater participation and contribution to the workforce — but this seemingly obvious correlation is missing in the case of Indian women, the study states.
So what can explain this paradox? The researchers have concluded that participation of educated women in the labour force is deterred by the ‘income effect’ of the families that they are married into, given that educated women tend to marry educated men who have a good family income.
Moderately educated women would also not work in jobs that are beneath their educational qualifications, and there is fierce competition for the mid-range jobs such as sales and clerical posts, thereby limiting their participation in the labour force, the study has further found.
The study utilised two waves of IHDS results — one from 2004-2005, which surveyed 41,554 households across all states, and the second wave in 2011–2012, which interviewed a total of 42,152 households.
The researchers confined themselves to married women between the ages of 25 and 59, considering that women below 25 are likely to still be studying, and women above 59 are likely to be retired.
Of the 72,620 married women surveyed, the study found that 47.4 per cent were illiterate, 26.7 per cent had completed primary school education, 13.3 per cent had completed secondary education and 7.6 per cent had incomplete primary education. Only 5 per cent were college graduates.
It found that 41.6 per cent of these married women were employed in some kind of work.
The study counted any married woman who had contributed at least 240 hours in the previous year as employed, factoring in different jobs such as working in the household farm, salaried employment and daily wage labour.
The relationship between employment rates and education levels among Indian women is a U-shaped curve, according to the study. In that, employment decreases till secondary level before rising again.
The researchers list three broad reasons for this.
They state the ‘other’ family income effect — or the effect of the household income of the family of the married woman. Sociologists have long argued that educated women tend to marry educated men with higher incomes. The higher income may decrease the woman’s incentive in going out and working, the study states.
In the case of women who have passed class 10, the study says it is extremely difficult to find high-quality and well-paying jobs, thereby making employment a challenge. Additionally, they would not want to work in jobs they perceive beneath their educational qualification, such as working in agricultural farms or household enterprises.
For women who have post-secondary education qualifications, they might aim for mid-range jobs but such jobs are in high demand and thus, difficult to obtain.
The 2001 census showed that men hold 87.3 per cent of office clerks and 93.1 per cent of sales jobs in India. This means that while such jobs may be in high demand, one important reason why moderately educated women don’t get these jobs is gender discrimination.
“Occupational exclusion from sales and clerical jobs acts as a major impediment in women’s pursuit of employment, and if that is addressed specifically, it could lead to significant improvement,” the study says.
Other factors such as caste cannot be ignored either, it states.
Historically, the researchers state, women of higher castes have tended to face greater restrictions in going out to work. Caste-based discrimination in schools is also well-established. The rural versus urban divide, where women from the former find it more acceptable to venture out in fields and work is also an important aspect.
These coupled with the other family income effect in the case of educated women with a good family income adds to the paradox.