Gender Norms, Labour Supply and Poverty Reduction in Comparative Context: Evidence from Rural India and Bangladesh

2014 - 2017
ESRC/DFID Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation Research
Cooperation partners

Prof. Wendy Olsen, University of Manchester, UK

Prof. Amaresh Dubey, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India

Prof. Kunal Sen, University of Manchester, UK

Prof. Simeen Mahmud, BRAC University, Bangladesh

Dr. Sohela Nazneen, BRAC University, Bangladesh



Research Questions

  • What has caused many women to apparently withdraw their labour from the labour market during the boom years of 2000 to 2007?
  • What has happened during the later years up to 2013?
  • What attitudes differentiate women (and men) in ways relevant to labour supply, causing some households to avoid offering paid wage labour of women to the market, while gaining their availability for other forms of upaid, informal and domestic work?

Contribution to International Research
To fill a gap in the knowledge about variations in the gender impact (and its mediation through social and micronorms) of poverty alleviation interventions in rural India and Bangladesh. We particularly want to focus on socialdifferentiation (in rural areas with many poor people) in attitudes about women's work, and its effect on women's work.

Research Design and Methods
The project focuses on women's well-being as related to their attitudes and their work. It has two branches and involves research in two geographic areas, rural Bangladesh and rural low-income parts of India.The first branch is to use secondary data to look at changing attitudes and women's labour-force involvement over two decades. For the second branch we collect primary survey data at household, personal and village level and at two points in time within one year, to allow for male-female wage differentials to be examined over a small seasonal panel. We can create models of the supply of labour from these data. The results will be better than standard results.The second branch involves mixed methods analysis of attitudes about gender and work. Here, the research also moves on to examine the sources of change and resistance to change in women's labour and women's roles, based upon theattitudinal data and semi-structured interviews (80 per country, carried out as follow ups to the survey for selected individual cases, 60 men and 20 women in India and the same in Bangladesh).We examine attitudes about women's work and their informal/formal labour supply in each area. Some attitudes about domestic roles to limit the willingness of some women to labour outside their home, and offer resistance to the general trend toward more egalitarian attitudes during the potentially modernising influence of economic growth. We will report onthe actual diversity of these attitudes in the states of Jharkand, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh (India) and two rural areas of Bangladesh. The qualitative research offsets a tradition in economics of focusing purely on narrowly defined paid labour, and using individualistic approaches, when studying labour-supply of women. We avoid individualism and yet we combined quantitative and qualitative data. This research integrates demography with sociology and economics. We have a new modelling method that looks at the husband-wife pair. Another strong advantage is our use of multilevel models and ourability to control for change over time in the panel of survey data (for two seasons).

Preliminary Results
Looking at thirty years of comparable NSS data from 1983 to 2011 of rural women’s participation in the labour force in India we find that the sharp drop in female labour force participation (FLP) in 2004-2011 occurs in both narrow and wide definitions of FLP. We observe that the largest drop occurs in illiterate unmarried women in labourer households. We do not find any geographic concentration of the decline in FLP. We also observe that in some categories of economically active women, the decline in FLP had started much earlier, in the 1980s, suggesting that for these women, secular factors of FLP were at work. We do not find any evidence of a substitution of non-market work for market work. Our analysis highlights the somewhat contradictory behaviour of RLFPR across different definitions and time periods, and across different correlates of female labour force participation, and suggests that more complex factors are at work than has usually been discussed in the literature.

Research Team

Research Programme