A strange paradox for Indian women -Sonalde Desai
Better education is not leading to better job opportunities, marriage prospects or freedom of movement
Abigail Adams, wife of the second President of the U.S. and mother of the sixth President, wrote to her husband, “If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion.” As last year’s #MeToo movement and Sabarimala protests showed, perhaps Indian women are echoing her and are ready to foment a rebellion.
Education and employment
What fuels these movements? Could it be that the very success of India’s economic transformation brings with it a stark realisation that it has not paid particular care and attention to women? The most promising sign of the improving conditions of Indian women lies in declining inequality in education. In all villages and towns, mornings and afternoons are brightened by the smiling faces of girls and young women, dressed in their uniforms, walking to school. Almost all girls go to primary school and, according to the India Human Development Survey (IHDS) of 2011-12, 70% of girls aged 15 to 18 are still studying, only five percentage points less than boys. They frequently outperform boys. In 2018, in the Class XII CBSE examination, 88.31% girls passed, compared to 78.99% boys. However, in spite of rising education and rising aspirations, labour markets and social norms constrain women, almost as if they are all dressed up for a party with nowhere to go.
Data from the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) and the IHDS show that education and employment have a U-shaped relationship. Illiterate women are most likely to participate in the workforce. Work participation drops sharply for women with primary and secondary education and rises only with college education. Research by Esha Chatterjee and colleagues in a paper published in the journal Demographic Research, using data from the IHDS, further documents that this relationship holds even after we take into account income of other members of the household, social background and place of residence.
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