Volume 38 - Article 31 | Pages 855–878  

Indian paradox: Rising education, declining womens' employment

By Esha Chatterjee, Sonalde Desai, Reeve Vanneman


Background: Theories of human capital would suggest that with more education, women acquire greater skills and their earnings increase, resulting in higher labor force participation. However, it has been long known that in India, women’s education has a U-shaped relationship with labor force participation. Part of the decline at moderate levels of education may be due to an income effect whereby women with more education marry into richer families that enable them to withdraw from the labor force.

Objective: The paper uses the first comprehensive Indian income data to evaluate whether the other family income effect explains the negative relationship between moderate women’s education and their labor force participation.

Methods: Using two waves of the India Human Development Survey, a comprehensive measure of labor force participation is regressed on educational levels for currently married women aged 25–59.

Results: We find a strong other family income effect that explains some but not all of the U-shape education relationship. Further analyses suggest the importance of a lack of suitable employment opportunities for moderately educated women.

Conclusions: Other factors need to be identified to explain the paradoxical U-shape relationship. We suggest the importance of occupational sex segregation, which excludes moderately educated Indian women from clerical and sales jobs.

Contribution: This paper provides a more definitive test of the other family income effect and identifies new directions for future research that might explain the paradoxical U-curve relationship.

Author's Affiliation

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

Aligning household decision-making with work and education: A comparative analysis of women’s empowerment
Volume 48 - Article 19

Fathers' migration and nutritional status of children in India: Do the effects vary by community context?
Volume 43 - Article 20

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