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Gender Wage Gap in Rural Labor Market

, December 19, 2018, 0 Comments

Gender inequality is deeply entrenched in all sectors of the Indian economy. Despite the active involvement of reformists and feminists, discrimination on the basis of gender has been observed in all spheres of human interest, including wage gap in the labor market, issues of land rights by the state, intra-household allocations etc. (Sen and Dreze, 1989, Cowan and Dhanoa, 1983, Agarwal, 2002). The rural labor market is no exception. While wage earners in general are vulnerable sections of the society, the situation is even worse for women workers.

Since 2004-05, wage rate of women has been consistently lower than that of men. Even more alarming is the fact, that the wage-gap is widening every year.  For instance, in 2003-04, the gap between men and women wage rate was Rs. 29 per day, which has widened to Rs. 100 per day in 2017-18. In both agriculture and non-agriculture sector, the wage-gap increased almost 3-4 times.  The inertia in the gender wage gap is suggestive of the influence of slow changing factors such as cultural norms that matter to work participation.wage-gap

The trend of wage rate for both agricultural and non-agricultural occupations in the last 10 years has been bumpy. Breaking it into two phases, the initial phase, i.e., 2007-08 to 2012-13, was a period of high growth in wage rate for both men and women. Two major factors that contributed growth in this phase was implementation and the quick progress of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) and a healthy growth of the construction sector (as measured by the sector’s gross domestic product) (Kundu, 2018). This high growth phase was followed by a significant deceleration in the wage rate. Since 2015, growth in wage rate has been dismal. For instance, the average nominal wage growth over FY13-FY15 was 21%, but it came down to 5% in FY16-FY18. In real terms (adjusting for CPI inflation rural), wage growth declined to 0.45% during FY16-FY18 from 11% during FY13-FY15. While for both men and women wage rate followed a similar trend, the rate at which they grew differed, leading to the widening gap in the wage rate.wage-gap

Growth of wage rate at any given time is a response to supply and demand for labor. However, if men and women were perfect substitutes of one another, a decline in female labor supply should have increased the wage rate of both men and women and not affect the gender gap. The lack of perfect sustainability that is found in most countries in both agriculture and non-agriculture sector is one of the major factors leading to the widening wage gap.

Gender segregation in agricultural task shown in the table below (table 2) clearly shows the imperfection that subsists in the Indian agricultural labor market. Ploughing -the highest wage paid activity is largely dominated by men. Merely 5% of the workers involved in ploughing are women. On the other hand, weeding -the lowest wage paid activity is largely dominated by women.

Demand and supply of labor is also a function of the availability of non-farm jobs. The growth of agricultural wages for women has been higher than that of the wages in the non-agriculture sector for most of the year. However, during the high growth phase, the non-agricultural wages for women grew at a higher pace. One possible reason could be fewer women opting to work given the rise in real income of their menfolk and this is likely to have pushed up wages for women.wage-gapFemale participation in the workforce is associated with greater freedom and should be encouraged. However, the widening wage gap and imperfection in the male and female labor supply on wage, needs further investigation. One of the key solutions to alleviate gender wage discrimination lies in providing alternative employment opportunities and removing the imperfections in the labor market.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of MarketExpress – India’s first Global Analysis & Sharing Platform or the organization(s) that the author represents in his personal capacity.

  1. Bardhan, K. (1984). Work Patterns and Social Differentiation: Rural Women of West Bengal‖, in H.P. Binswanger and M. R. Rosenzweig (eds), Contractual Arrangements, Employment and Wages in Rural Labour Markets in Asia. Yale University Press, New Haven, pp.184-208
  2. Indian Statistical Institute (2011), The Gender Gap in Agricultural Wages in India”
  3. Ghatak, S. (2011), ‘Regional and Gender Disparity in Agricultural Wages” Working paper.
  4. Sen, Amartya and Jean Dreze (1989): ‘Society, Class and Gender’, in Hunger and Public Action.
  5. Cowan and Dhanoa (1983): ‘The Prevention of Toddler Malnutrition by Home Based Nutrition Health Education’, in Nutrition in the Community: A Critical Look at Nutrition Policy, Planning and Programs (ed. by DS Mclaren), 339-356.
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