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Women’s Work Participation Measurement


  • A recent Economic Survey (2022-23) acknowledged that the true nature of women’s work in India may not have been sufficiently captured by official statistics.
  • This deficiency has an impact on the policies we create to increase women’s economic participation as well as how we view women’s economic contributions.


GS Paper-1: Women Empowerment and related Issues.

GS Paper -2: Education and Skill Development.

Mains Question

Propose improvements to the methodology for measuring the true participation of women in the workforce. (150 Words)

Key Takeaways

Women’s participation in salaried work encourages families to forgo such domestic tedium and invest in time-saving infrastructure, like LPG cylinders.

Results of the Economic Survey for 2022–2023

  • Sources of measurement error include: o Using very broad categories that lump together productive economic activity with domestic unpaid work (like activity code 93 in the National Sample Survey employment surveys); o Asking one-shot questions without probing to classify women’s work; o Failing to capture cost-saving work that improves household well-being.
  • Additional Measurement Barriers: o Both interviewers and respondents frequently fail to take into account the work done by women, especially in family-based businesses.
    • In contrast to how women farmers perceive farming, men view farming as an extension of their household responsibilities.

Recommendations of Economic Survey

  • Improvements to the measurement of women’s work are encouraged by the economic survey.
    • Its clever suggestion to broaden the parameters of what constitutes employment.
      • The 2019 Time Use Survey reveals that women frequently partake in a variety of “expenditure-saving” activities.
    • This includes gathering firewood, carrying water, making atta out of wheat to cut down on costs, teaching kids, and cooking.
  • The Economic Survey recommends that we recognise this “work” in addition to “employment” and gather this data using newly designed surveys.
    • The Economic Survey also suggests that labour force surveys be updated to comply with the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) methodologies, which list a predefined set of activities, in order to eliminate underreporting.
    • This approach has two drawbacks, though. First, it confuses activities inside and outside the System of National Accounts (SNA) production boundary, where own-use production of goods like raising livestock or growing vegetables is seen as falling inside the production boundary while tutoring kids is typically thought of as falling outside the production boundary.
  • Two, tasks that are carried out because of a lack of infrastructure are now viewed as worthwhile rather than as “domestic drudgery.”

Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS)

  • The Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) was first released in April 2017 by the National Statistical Office (NSO).
    • Goal: o To estimate the key employment and unemployment indicators in the ‘Current Weekly Status’ for urban areas only in the short time period of three months (i.e., Worker Population Ratio, Labor Force Participation Rate, and Unemployment Rate) (CWS).
      • To annually estimate employment and unemployment indicators in both rural and urban areas using “Usual Status” (ps+ss) and CWS.
    • Terminology:
      • Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR): The LFPR is the proportion of the population that is employed, actively looking for work, or otherwise available for employment.
      • Unemployment Rate (UR): The UR is the proportion of unemployed people to the total labour force.
      • Worker Population Ratio (WPR): The WPR is the proportion of the population that is employed.
      • Activity Status- Usual Status: A person’s activity status is assessed in light of the pursuits they made during the designated reference period.
  • It is referred to as the person’s usual activity status when the activity status is established using the reference period of the last 365 days preceding the survey date.
    • Activity Status- Current Weekly Status (CWS): The person’s current weekly status (CWS) is based on the activity status determined over the reference period of the last seven days prior to the date of the survey.
  • Principal activity status: A person’s typical principal activity status was defined as the one on which they spent a significant amount of time (major time criterion) during the 365 days prior to the survey date.
    • Subsidiary economic activity status: The activity status in which a person performs some economic activity for 30 days or more during the reference period of 365 days preceding the date of the survey, in addition to his or her usual principal status, was considered the person’s subsidiary economic status.
    • Important Highlights of the Annual PLFS for 2020–21
      • The overall unemployment rate decreased to 4.2% from 4.8% in 2019–20, reflecting the status quo over the reference period of the 365 days prior to the survey.
      • In 2020–21, the labour force participation rate (LFPR) reached a four-year high of 39.3%.
      • Employment in the category of unpaid self-employed workers increased again in 2020–21, rising to 17.3% from 15.9% in 2019–20.

Way forward

  • Broadening the definition of work immediately increases the number of women workers, including almost the entire adult female population in India, and lessens the stigma of low female work participation rates in India. Politically, this is quite appealing and consistent with one stream of feminist activism.
  • It also fits in with feminist advocacy efforts to have women’s unpaid work recognised. By elevating the variety of activities performed by women, we risk viewing their weaknesses as assets and omitting to mention how few women have access to jobs that pay well.


Accurate measurement of women’s economic activities is crucial if India is to achieve inclusive economic growth and offer pathways to decent working conditions for all workers in accordance with Sustainable Development Goal 8.

March 2024