Penn Calendar Penn A-Z School of Arts and Sciences University of Pennsylvania
The Nand and Jeet Khemka Distinguished Lecture Series

Women and Work in India: Designing Policy When Power Matters

Rohini Pande
Henry J. Heinz II Professor of Economics; Director, Economic Growth Center, Yale University
Thursday, October 29, 2020 - 12:00
A Virtual Lecture via Zoom — 12 Noon EDT | 9:30pm IST
A CASI Nand & Jeet Khemka Distinguished Lecture

(English captions & Hindi subtitles available)

About the Lecture:

Despite rapid economic growth, female labor force participation in India has been falling and this trend may well be amplified by COVID-19. This lecture will discuss the role of gender norms and extant power structures in limiting Indian women’s access to labor markets and, using the example of India’s rural workfare program, demonstrate how public policy can be designed to strengthen women’s ability to challenge these norms and enter the labor market. Additionally, implications for COVID-19 social protection and labor market policies will be discussed.

About the Speaker:

Rohini Pande is the Henry J. Heinz II Professor of Economics and Director of the Economic Growth Center, Yale University. She is a co-editor of American Economic Review: Insights. Pande’s research is largely focused on how formal and informal institutions shape power relationships and patterns of economic and political advantage in society, particularly in developing countries. She is interested the role of public policy in providing the poor and disadvantaged political and economic power, and how notions of economic justice and human rights can help justify and enable such change. Her most recent work focuses on testing innovative ways to make the state more accountable to its citizens, such as strengthening women’s economic and political opportunities, ensuring that environmental regulations reduce harmful emissions, and providing citizens effective means to voice their demand for state services.

In 2018, Pande received the Carolyn Bell Shaw Award from the American Economic Association for promoting the success of women in the economics profession. She is the co-chair of the Political Economy and Government Group at Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), a Board member of Bureau of Research on Economic Development (BREAD) and a former co-editor of The Review of Economics and Statistics. Before coming to Yale, Pande was the Rafik Harriri Professor of International Political Economy at Harvard Kennedy School, where she co-founded Evidence for Policy Design. Pande received a Ph.D. in economics from London School of Economics, a BA/MA in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics from Oxford University, and a BA in Economics from Delhi University.

Rohini Pande Photo by Dan Renzetti, Yale OPAC


Tariq Thachil:

Hello, everyone and thank you for joining us. I'm delighted to welcome you to a Nand and Jeet Khemka Distinguished Lecture, hosted by CASI, the Center for the Advanced Study of India, at the University of Pennsylvania. I'm Tariq Thachil, and I'm the director of CASI and a faculty member in the Department of Political Science here at Penn. Before introducing our distinguished speaker, I just want to thank the Nand and Jeet Khemka Foundation, whose generous support makes this series of public lectures possible, and I would also like to thank the CASI team responsible for organizing this event, Juliana, Georgette, Alan, Makeda, Laura, and Naveen. Thank you.

The question animating today's Khemka lecture, why do so few Indian women work, and what can be done about it? Is both timely and timeless. There has been increasing awareness of a persistent paradox within India, as many of you know. The country's GDP per capita, recent controversies aside, has experienced steady overall growth over the past three decades, more than quadrupling between 1990 and 2015. Yes, female labor force participation rates have remained stubbornly low, rarely crossing 25%, and in recent years numerous labor surveys have unearthed evidence of a decline, with some putting the figure at closer to between 24 and 28%. Growth might trigger initial declines in female labor force participation as incomes rise and women drop out of low-paying and menial jobs, particularly in agriculture, but these trend are typically expected to reverse with continued increases in development and education levels as India has witnessed. Why, then, has growth not been accompanied by more women working or seeking work? Why does India lag behind other countries at a similar level of economic development, including neighbors like Nepal and Bangladesh? Addressing these questions is important, given the importance of women working for their own financial well-being, social autonomy, and even physical health, but it is also important for the country's economic health, with some estimates suggesting a net increase of over 25% of India's GDP if the gender gap in labor force participation were to be closed.

To advance our understanding of this important phenomenon, I can think of no person better than our speaker, Rohini Pande, who has spend years seeking to understand the barriers to India's women entering the workforce, and thinking about ways to dismantle these barriers. Professor Pande is Henry J. Heinz II Professor of Economics are Yale University, where she also directs the Economic Growth Center. She was previously Rafik Hariri Professor of International Political Economy at Harvard University, where she also co-founded the research group Evidence for Policy Design. As one of the world's foremost development economists, she has contributed to our understanding on a range of topics within political economy. In work with a range of collaborators, she has examined the impact of microfinance, providing the first evidence of the adverse consequences of a lack of a grace period for borrowers. She has looked at how tenancy reform and Indian land-holding can reduce local land-owning inequality, but also increase landlessness about SC and SD households. In other work, she has looked at how favoritism towards elder sons underpins India's alarming levels of child stunting. Her research has often looked to inform public policy, and is designed in conjunction with policymakers at the central state and local levels, both in India and elsewhere. Her work often looks to test innovative ways to make the state more accountable to its citizens, understand how state institutions shape patterns of privilege and disadvantage, and design policies to strengthen economic and political opportunities for women.

However, I do not want to read out a list of accomplishments, as is often pro forma in these kinds of introductions. Instead, I'd like to conclude by noting just one achievement that I think is perhaps most significant, for it suggests that unlike many academics, Professor Pande does not view the US academy she works within as insulated or above the problems that she studies, in particular, the structural disadvantages faced by women. Even more importantly, she has been seriously committed to improving the representation of women within the still heavily male-dominated profession of economics. According to a 2018 special report published by the American Economic Association, women make up just 14% of full professors within US economics departments. It is therefore especially notable that in 2018, Professor Pande was awarded the Carolyn Bell Shaw Award for promoting the success of women in the economics profession, and her letters of nomination attest to her constant efforts to advocate for female economists, some of whom said they would have left the profession entirely if not for her support and advocacy.

We are very sorry to not be able to host Professor Pande here in Philadelphia in person, but we are delighted she has agreed to join us virtually. Given that the focus of today's lecture is on inclusion, we at CASI are aware that this virtual format does permit many of you to attend who might otherwise not be able to do so, including many students in India who registered for today's talk and whom we especially welcome. To all of you listening, if you have questions, please put them in the Q&A box and I will pose as many of them as I am able to, to Professor Pande following her talk. With that, please join me in welcoming Professor Rohini Pande, our fall 2020 Khemka distinguished speaker. Rohini, welcome.

Rohini Pande:

Thank you, Tariq. Thank you very much for that very warm welcome, and I'm extremely honored to be here and have the opportunity to talk to you. Let me jump into my presentation, without more ado. Right. As Tariq said, what I want to talk about today was really some learnings that we've had over the years on thinking about, how do you design policy to affect women's ability to work, in settings where power relations matter a lot? This is really going to be a central theme in my discussion. Before I start, I should say that this work is based on joint publications and joint papers with many co-authors. I've listed some of my main collaborators over the years here, but it's also been made possible by sort of tireless work by many young researchers who joined us in the field over the years, so this is also thanking many of them for all they've done here.

As Tariq mentioned, on many dimensions, Indian women's lives have been improving. If you look at GDP or female education or fertility, we see the trends look very positive. It's worth remembering that not that long ago, maybe just three decades ago, these were often seen as important precursors that should be about women's empowerment. The idea that education, educating women was seen as an incredibly important way of empowering women, but when you look at the data on women's work, we don't see such a positive trend in working outside of the household. What this graph shows you is, each dot is a country. It shows you for three points in time, 1990 is the gray line, yellow is for 2000, and the maroon is for 2010, it shows you how female labor force participation varies with the country's income. The dots, the big dots below the line in gray, yellow, and maroon are India. You can see that in each of the cases, India has been getting richer, so the dots are moving to the right, but they remain persistent, stuck here stubbornly below the regression line. Even if we took to heart, as Tariq said, the view that women first leave the labor force when countries become richer because not everyone now needs to work, and then re-enter, in our cases, we see that Indian women are just working a lot less.

One way of trying to think about what's going on is to really add another variable, and this is something that Marianne Bertrand, an economist who's been working on female labor force participation across the world, did in an AE lecture this year. She took data from the World Values Survey, which was a question that was asked, "When jobs are scarce, do you agree that men have more of a right to a job than women?" Asked, if she divided countries into sort of high, middle, and low sexism by it, does it predict the extent of the curve? Answer was yes. Unfortunately, even in that case, you see that India lies well off the regression line, but it starts giving you a sense of one thing that may be going on, is that perhaps what keeps women out of the labor force is not just higher income, maybe start growing, but perhaps also something more structural.

I think that harks back to work by [inaudible 00:12:50], which he had done in the early 1970s, where he actually argued that times of structural transformation could also easily become points in time when women get marginalized. As an economy starts growing and you start seeing manufacturing sector and the services sector rise, in the start they don't have that many jobs. In the queue to move out of agriculture and get into these sectors, it may well be that women are left behind in the queue, partly because of norms such as the idea that men have more a right to a job.

Now, one important thing to keep in mind is that this is not wishing back against the cultural differences. If we think of just survey data, in the National Sample Survey, what we see, that around 20% of Indian housewives state that their preference is to have a job. If we simply these latent workers into the labor force, responding to their preferences to be in the workforce, we would actually double the female labor force participation. A recurrent theme of the work I will talk about today is to really think about, what are these norms, these social informed institutions that can either be directly internalized by women or indirectly channeled by men and lead to women staying out? One way in which they're indirectly channeled is this quote from someone in one of our sites, who said, "Every man's responsibility is to take care of his family. A good husband can take care alone." This is a case where you may think that these norms actually become sources of stigma if you move against them.

In my short talk today, what I wanted to do first is just give you a few facts about Indian women's work lives and point out the ways in which they look very different from what we see in other countries. I then want to talk about how we should think about designing policy in a world where controlling resources matters and where power matters, and finally, I want to leave with some thoughts of, the concerns I think many of us have on what might be happening to India's women in a post-COVID world, or right now during-COVID world.

I want to talk about five facts which come from the most recent Labor Force Survey, the Periodic Labor Force Survey of 2018-19. This was just, this was before the COVID crisis. The first fact that's extremely striking is, in India, what we see is a lack of entry rather than exit for women in the labor force. What you see in this graph, the top line, the blue line, is for men. You can see that men steadily enter the labor force from, say, the age of 16 up to 28, at which point close to 95% of men are working, and then that remains steady until they start retiring after the age of 50. In contrast, you see for women, starts at a much lower level. It continues to rise until late, at around the age of 40, but it remains extremely low. This is in stark contrast to many other countries where what we see is, women enter the labor force, stay in it until childbirth causes many of them to leave, and they may enter again. In the Western world, often the conundrum of female labor force participation is often the N-shape, the fact that it's entry, exit, and then re-entry to a lower level. In contrast, in India what we're seeing is they're just not entering the labor force.

Consistent with this, what you see here is for each age, from 18 to 40, the purple line at the bottom, so let's look at women on the left-hand side. The purple line at the bottom shows you the number of women who are unmarried and studying, and the yellow line at the top shows you the number of women who are married, neither studying nor working, and then the pink line below that is unmarried, neither studying nor working. What you see is, up to the age around 21, division is half between those who are married and not working and then those who are unmarried, either in school or not working. Then, the transition really mostly is from the unmarried not working to married not working. In contrast, if you look at men, they are similarly in education at the ages of 18 and 19, but then after that what expands out for them is the orange bars, which are the married, working. That is just not happening for women.

This is happening against a background of increasing education among women, and so unsurprisingly, if you look at education, what we see, that education remains a very limited predictor of work, especially in rural areas. This is looking at men and women between the ages of 25 to 60, so they're mostly finished education. What you can see is for men, which is the blue line, the bars are very low. They're mostly, they've entered work. In contrast, for women, the bars are very high, of not being in work, and essentially not really moved by education. There is, I should say, some evidence that in urban areas, women with more than secondary do seem to be participating more in the labor force. I know that this gives us a little bit of a hint of what's going on here. Women are getting more educated. They're moving out of [inaudible 00:18:19] culture with education. In urban areas, they have some ability to enter the service sector or manufacturing. In the rural area, those jobs are just not there, and that combined with mobility restrictions, which means that migration is difficult for young unmarried women to undertake, means that you end up remaining at home, being educated but not working.

You can see that here, so here I've just taken the group of rural and urban women who have more than secondary education, and then taken the dark blue part of the pie on the left, which is the fraction employed, so among secondary school educated women in rural areas, 13% are employed and in urban areas 20% are employed, and then asked to see, where are they employed? Obviously, rural women are more likely to be in agriculture, but you see manufacturing is quite similar across rural and urban areas. This is consistent with the fact that in India, a lot of recent economic growth has been services driven, not manufacturing driven. The big difference that you see is that urban women are much more likely to be in services. Interestingly, one of the largest sectors where more educated women enter is education, schoolteachers. Then, what you see is, the health, health workers, and then there's this group of other services, which is retail work, working in hotels and beauty salons, and so on. That's really a sector that is much more accessible to urban women than rural women. I think part of what it will take for women to enter the labor force is for rural women to be able to migrate at much higher rates to urban areas.

Another thing to remind you is, one thing we've been talking about is norms and how they may be limiting migration, but another fact that I will just highlight is the contractual status for women is very poor in services and manufacturing. This shows you that, if I look at manufacturing, services, health, and education, essentially the vast majority are working with no original contract, or if they have a contract, it's for less than a year. Education is the best place, or the public sector, there's a few more likely to have a longer term contract. While we talk partly about norms, I do want to recognize that another constraint in women's work, especially when it comes to migration, is that you're migrating for work that is, where you have very little protection.

Let me turn now to what I see as one of the key constraints that is unique, in a lot of ways, to South Asia, in particular to India. Before we start talking about the importance of norms, it may be useful to align on the concepts that we're going to use. When I talk about actual norms, I'm going to be talking about the beliefs that a social group holds about what is or is not appropriate behavior. This might be my own belief on whether it is appropriate for a woman to work, or whether I think a woman who works is undertaking activities that are not appropriate for her. The second notion is perceived norms, so this is not my own belief, but this is my perception of what the community thinks. You may think that this is what I really think underlies concepts of stigma. This is an individual's perception of other's beliefs of what you think may be appropriate. Interestingly, there's a lot of work recently saying that especially in economies that have seen sudden large increases in, say, education, actual and perceived norms may not be aligned, and in particular your perceptions may be much more conservative than actually individuals' preferences are.

One of the things that I've tried to do in quite a lot of my work in my cohort, is to try to measure separately these norm costs based by men and women, and to argue that gender norms don't just vary at the level of country or community, but they also have important differences across men and women, and this is what very often becomes the basis of the asymmetries that then play in women being constrained in work by not their preferences, but those of their husbands. This is data from our study site in Madhya Pradesh, and what you see here is, this is for individual perceptions of the share of the community that judges a women if she works. The hollow bars are female reports, so those are women's survey reports, and the shaded in bars are men's reports. What you can see is that the entire male distribution is shifted to the right of the female distribution. What we see is, men see much greater social cost to female work, and if you run just simple correlations, typically this correlates with fewer women working. That, I think, is the most direct form of these norms, which is, inappropriateness of working.

Where are these norms about appropriateness of work coming? A lot of them are actually coming from what you believe is relevant for marriage. As part of some work we were doing on mobile phone ownership by women, we did a lot of data collection around these norms. These are typically the type of norms and the implications they have, which then, that matter for work. Pre-marriage, the typical norms are that women should, girls should remain chaste and pure, and this translates into limited physical mobility and limited access to mobile phones. Then, there are views that girls should be subservient and obey parents in order to ensure that arranged marriages within caste networks can occur, and this will lead to limited decision-making power of who you marry. Post-marriage, the fact that women live with their in-laws often leads to weaker social ties and therefore, harder ability to negotiate. Then, there's the perception that their primary role is that of a caregiver.

I can give you an example of how this actually shows up, starting here, about aspects of the modern economy that might matter for work. As I said, some of my co-authors, we did a number of qualitative interviews of roughly 100 women and 27 men about phone ownership, whether it was appropriate for women to own phones and how this mapped to gender norms. You can see here, this is a very typical thing we would hear, is that women are caregivers so they should not use their phones for long hours. Purity was very important, the phones are seen as a risk to women's reputation. She might [inaudible 00:25:07] and get a partner or boyfriend, but you want to ensure that, for example, okay if they're for work or study, but the bigger concern was, how is it going to affect your reputation? In fact, this is one of the reasons why India has the largest gender gap in mobile phone usage across the world, even though it has some of the cheapest mobile phone rates.

When we start start trying read these notions of norms to what it means in terms of work, the first part of evidence I want to talk about is really descriptive evidence from a large survey we did on rural men and women who entered skilling programs. This is a very common current government program of trying to provide training to men and women, so it's usually a six to eight week training, at the end of which you're placed in a job. If you think about, say, someone working in a coffee café there in Bangalore, they may be someone who has been trained a skilling institute in, say, Madhya Pradesh, and then sent to provide this job contract in Bangalore. Another very common one would be government workers who, say, get trained in Orissa and then sent again to Bangalore for work.

We took a set of these, roughly 2000 of these trainees across seven rural Indian states and asked, what does the pipeline look like? We compare men to women, and so if you look at the bottom up on these bar charts, what you see are roughly 15% of the men did not receive a job offer of their skill training, and this almost doubles for women. This is despite having very similar grades, so this is I think this idea of, when jobs are scarce, who gets them more? Then, you also find that women refuse these jobs at a slightly higher rate, and as a natural result of this they're much less likely to get places with an actual job. Then when we include men and women on reasons for job rejection, what was very striking is the predominant reason for men was wages. The wages were not high enough or they had other work-related concerns. For women, the primary concern was personal and family concerns. That their parents would not like them to go far away, that it would affect their marriage, and that essentially, this is always repeatedly the same thing. "I really want to go, but my parents won't let me go." I think the striking the difference in the reasons for job rejection, again, brings out the importance of norms.

Let me turn to some slightly more cheerful thoughts, of how can we design policies that can actually work, at the time? This is actually, this is a picture from a study site, and what you see here is that it's a set of women who have come to take up daily laborers in the field. They're going to be helping harvest the wheat, and the rates at which they're going to work are being negotiated between the land owner and their husbands. This is a very common setting, where women are working, but the rates at which they're working and who gets the money is their husband. We were interested in this basic question, is, can the government effect change by changing who gets money when women works? To remind you, the setting against which this matters is, India is really today the world leader in digitizing social protection payments, so there's a huge opportunity of asking whether you can empower women in terms of at least control of their earnings through these digital social protection programs. What we are going to be looking at is the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme, which is the world's largest federal workfare program at this time. As you can see, there are 113.5 million accounts under this scheme.

This policy guarantees 100 days' work at a fixed rate to any household that requests employment. It's a particularly salient policy to be looking at right now because in the kind of COVID world, this has really turned out to be the main form of social protection available to individuals in rural areas. We worked in rural northern Madhya Pradesh in a set of village clusters, and this was an area with relatively conservative norms. Our sample was where at least one household member was working for the workfare but the woman was unbanked. We were probably more interested in that, in these households where a woman is unbanked, even if she works, the payments are being directly digitally transferred, but to her husband.

The first intervention that we were interested in was to say, "Let's just give women bank accounts. They can then do what they want with it, but we will just give them bank accounts." This is a typical village kiosk that you will see in our study areas. The second was to say, "Let's strengthen this account by also providing them some training, and in particular, helping them understand how they can use the kiosk, how they can go and affect outcomes." The third one, which is really the one we are the most interested in, was for a subset of them to request accounts to be linked to their payments in the NREGS system. This meant that their earnings would go to their own account and would not change anyone else's.

Let's just summarize. We ran a randomized field experiment, so we randomized at the level of the villages which group you came into, and the main results that I'm going to be interested in today is comparing women who got bank accounts, so got some financial inclusion, to those who got the bank account, training, and direct deposit. What we're really interested in asking is, holding constant the ability to have a bank account, does giving a woman control over her earnings have an additional effect?

High levels of take-up, people were very interested in this account, but importantly for us, we tracked our accounts at two points, so one year after and three years after, and we find that what this did do is it raised labor supply. We find significant increases in both public labor supply, which perhaps is less surprising, that you would expect, once people have more awareness, but what was very important for us is we actually see increases in private labor supply, and that more than anything else, we argue, is consistent with the idea that there are groups of women who were constrained from entering the labor market because of their husbands' internalization of norms, working with social stigma. Once they were able to control their earnings, they had more bargaining power. They were able to start working, and once they start working, they would not restrict themselves to the public labor sector. They would work in both the public and the private sector.

Alongside, what we see is the financial inclusion and autonomy improves as well. The three different measures we see, effects on account use, kiosk knowledge, and importantly, banking autonomy, which is perceptions of whether a woman visits a bank alone and is comfortable doing so, and whether she believes this is appropriate. Now, three years after the intervention, we went back to those villages, and we knew by now that our intervention led to more women working. What we were interested in is, does this actually lead to liberalization of norms?

First, about our actual norms, so we asked, did this change views on whether a woman should be able to work, whether you want your son or daughter to end up in a household where women work? Does it affect your approval of working men and women? Here, what we found is that these norms liberalized, but they liberalized largely for women, not for men. Next, we looked at perceptions, so here what we did is we gave every surveyed individual, man and woman, a set of 10 coins and asked them to tell us how many of these coins do they think represent the number of community members who would not speak badly of working women. Similarly, who would not think badly of a husband, and here what we found is that perceptions improved, both for women, but importantly, also for men. We think that this, in the end, was perhaps the most positive source of potential long-term change, this change in men's beliefs of how much stigma they would face in their community if their wives went out and worked.

Let me spend the next few minutes, four minutes or so of my talk, talking a little bit about what I see are the big risks for women today, as the pandemic and the economic recession in India continues. The question I think many of us are trying to think about is, what is this crisis going to do? Is it going to be a point of change, where men start picking up more housework? We start seeing more alignment of men's recognition of the care economy, or is this going to become a case of reinforcing social norms and labor market inequalities, that even get more exacerbated? For the first thing you should look at, is the two bars on the left. This is the World Values Survey question, "When jobs are scarce, men have more right to a job than women." As you can see here, 61% of the men and actually close to 50% of the women agreed with the statement. We are entering the pandemic, if you will, with, in a setting where the norms already suggest that there may be a belief that women have less rights to a job.

Then, we ended up in one of the deepest recessions in the world, so according to a recent IMF estimate, India's per capita growth rate for 2020 is going to be minus 11%, and it expects to add close to 85 million into its poverty rolls. In the most recent reports, which is from the Center for Monitoring the Indian Economy, which is really the mean, I would say, in real time, measure we have of employment, is conditional on employment pre-lockdown, we are seeing a 23.5% difference between men and women's employment post-lockdown. In this setting, what should social policy do? At the time of the lockdown, the main policy that the government implemented was to really give very short-term cash transfers, and they hoped that this would be gender sensitive, by saying that we're going to put them into the bank accounts for women who have EMJDY accounts, which are these bank accounts, very similarly to experience in Madhya Pradesh, that were opened at scale, in what the Indian government would call [inaudible 00:35:47].

The first thing we showed in just existing data is that the most ... The women who needed the most tend not to have account, and this is exactly this issue. They're less literate, they don't have [inaudible 00:36:03] concerns, their husbands may not approve of them having an account. Our estimates, which seem to then match up with actual banking data, is that roughly half of women below World Bank poverty index were excluded from this cash relief because they didn't have it. The next thing one could ask is then, what happened under NREGS? We go back to our study setting, and what this graph on the right shows you, the blue line is the average employment under NREGS of 2015 to 2019, and then the red line shows you this year. You can see, it's just been a tremendous spurt. This has been the main form in which rural households are getting any livelihood right now. We went back and got the data on our study areas, and looked to see, did those households where, or did those women who actually had gotten the bank account with the direct transfer do better?

What we see is, which is [inaudible 00:37:10] for us, is that this graphs out, the light blue line is accounts-holding people, and then the dark blue line is, if you want, the treatment I talked about, direct deposit and training. The graph marks out both when the national lockdown began and then when it ended. What you can see is that there is a little bit of an expanding, but certainly a sturdy differences in the rates in which women who had direct deposit and training, who lived in villages with now somewhat liberalized norms, and who had ability to use their accounts were able to cope through the pandemic by going out to working. That's one response to say. I mean, it's a bit of a longer-term response but it's not just about saying you're going to put money into women's accounts. Implementation matters, understanding, who are the women who actually are able to access these accounts, and working on longer-term agendas to ensure that there is ... Active financial inclusion is going to be, for women, as important as is just going to be, say, [inaudible 00:38:09].

Let me finish with one last slide, with ... Well, two slides, it's the second slide, which is really return migration. World Bank estimates said to us that during the lockdowns, there was something like 40 million internal migrants who were affected by these lockdowns. Along with some of my colleagues, we've been tracking a representative sample of male and female return migrants in Chhattisgarh and Bihar. These are low education migrants, and young. The median age in our sample is 28. What we looked, see ... We tracked them and they returned to these states, and so they returned from all over, often south India, sometimes north India. We find that there are now large gender gaps in working at the return place, and what was concerning is that the stated plans to return migrate, again, to higher paying work in urban areas, is much higher for men than for women. At least right now, in the data which we see, is women look like they're going to be less likely to return to urban areas as migrant labor, and there's also some evidence that for the unmarried female migrants who returned, they're more likely to get married at a slightly earlier age than they would have otherwise.

Let me just conclude with sort of three thoughts. I've argued that, thinking about labor force participation of women in India has to be linked to thinking about gender norms and marriage markets. We see in many different ways that women and men bear social costs when women work, and some of these costs are linked to perceptions of what sustains purity and what keeps, what is appropriate for young women who need to then get married within their same caste. In this setting, there is, however, a potential for creating some kind of virtual cycle where, if you strengthen women's control over economic resources in the longer run, norms are malleable, they can change. This is something we've seen the world over, and so India is no different here. I think right now is particularly a time of concern. It's a sort of time where women's labor market positions are greatly threatened, and so I think the response can't just be to say that we're going to target cash transfers to women. It has to really try to take on much more these norms and [inaudible 00:40:35] structures which are going to be actively suggesting that women come later in the queue relative to men when it comes to entering the labor force. Let me stop here, thank you very much.

Tariq Thachil:

Okay, thanks so much, Rohini, for a broad-ranging and stimulating talk. Just to remind everyone, please enter any questions that you have into the Q&A box. I know that there are a number there already, and I apologize in advance if we're not able to get to all of them, but hopefully we'll be able to get through a few. Let me begin by asking a question that came from [inaudible 00:41:09], who asked Rohini, he notes that there seems to be a consensus that conservative/patriarchal norms hamper women's labor force participation, but his question is about the supply side, and particularly about the lack of supply of suitable jobs that are proximate to women's residences, matching their skills, that fit with their schedules, things like part-time work. I know you talked about this in the context of NREGS, which is a specific idea, but how do you think about this set of constraints more broadly in terms of the work that you're doing?

Rohini Pande:

I think, we can respond to these constraints in two ways. I should say, I keep changing my mind on which we want to respond. What's not happening in India, I think the clearest thing is, rural to urban migration for women. If you look at China in the 1990 or the 2000 census, the largest groups that was migrating was young unmarried women between 16 to 20, going to the coastal areas to work in garment farms. As I said, I go both ways, in that I think one view is to say what we really need to do is make migration safer, more appropriate, and I did present this with one piece of evidence we see very strongly, is that migration support centers in the cities, the better they are in terms of, say, getting your bank account, getting your mobile phone, getting paperwork, the longer women are likely to stay in the job. There's one view that what you really want to do is work on trying to make migration available.

The other, which can happen if women are ready, important for work, is that the industries themselves move. You hear a little bit about that for the garment industry, where there've been an example of some industries actually opening up in Orissa where a lot of the labor is, because they find it harder to get in Karnataka. The thought is very much to say, "Let's think about what are the jobs women can do [inaudible 00:43:01]?" For instance, if there are bank kiosks, well maybe they acquire female, women to be [inaudible 00:43:06] bank kiosks. I sort of have a mixed view on that. I think it's important to take small steps, so I agree that you want to find jobs, but I worry that in doing that bit, we are doing exactly what [inaudible 00:43:19] said, is that we're marginalizing women into these particular types of jobs that maybe get you into the labor force, but don't have the career progression that going to a city and starting an urban life has. I think we should increase that, but we should be careful to do it in a way that ensures that we're not actually having, sort of supporting this marginalization of the jobs women have.

Tariq Thachil:

Thanks for that. Another question that we have comes from [inaudible 00:43:48], who asks, how does childcare factor into this phenomenon? We would expect that having access to childcare would increase the number of women in the workforce, but India has a large share of joint families which doesn't really reap the benefits of additional family members available for childcare. I think the broader question is, yeah, just this idea of this additional responsibilities of women, how does that kind of play a role here?

Rohini Pande:

I think there's no doubting that women play an important role, and I would say it's the broader care economy, it's not just childcare. India has just released a new time use survey I think after 20 years, and you see very clearly that it's both childcare, it's also other work. I think that's the reason why the first fact I showed about women and work in India is, it really is striking, it's not about exit at the time of having kids. Women are not entering the labor force. They're not entering the labor force. They're going from being unmarried and not working to being married and not working, so I think once they start working, I have no doubt that childcare will be an important constraint, and I suspect if you got the data, which we should do, and look at, let's say, urban more than secondary women, secondary education women, we start seeing a little bit of the N-shape, but for the vast majority of women right now, I think what's constraining is not being able to enter the labor market.

Tariq Thachil:

Okay. The next question is from [inaudible 00:45:12]. He asks, outside the context of research studies, has there been or is there likely to be opposition by men in rural communities for their female partners receiving bank accounts and the necessary training? We can think of kind of instances of backlash, and it [inaudible 00:45:30] to similar moves, perhaps. I remember a study in Bangladesh with respect to microfinance, and so, are there institutions that are ideally suited to providing this training? [inaudible 00:45:40] wants to know some of your thoughts on that.

Rohini Pande:

I think there's certainly evidence that there are groups that don't want past structures to be changed. Very often, these are actually going to come from outside of your household. One thing we saw in some rural economies, and I know people like Ellen Barry wrote about it quite a lot, is it's actually along caste lines, not so much men versus women in the same family. If I'm a poor, low caste household, very often just the income requirements mean that I will be happy to have my wife go out and work, but these notions of purity and so on come very often from upper castes who, in order to maintain, ensure that there are very few inter-caste marriages, push against women working. I think one has to ... I mean, I think there's backlash very often and there is opposition. I completely agree, but sometimes the quarters are not so much, it was just a husband saying they don't want their wife to work. It interacts with income.

Another thing we saw which I was very struck by when we did the skills survey, we surveyed both parents and brothers, and one thing we saw is actually, very often, parents were not so opposed to their daughters going to urban areas. These were illiterate parents and there's, they have affection for their daughter. If their daughter pushes hard enough, they want to go, but in many cases, we found that brothers have much more conservative social norms. This could also just be a trend of kind of increasing conservatism in India that's going on, but it was very often, you could say, and, there are many views. It could be that brothers have a better sense of the dangers of them going. It could be that their brothers are competing with them in the labor market and so they don't want them to go, or it could just be rising conservatism. We actually saw, for these women, it was the brothers who were often the gatekeepers.

Tariq Thachil:

I think a question that we got from a couple of people and kind of [inaudible 00:47:30] something that I was thinking about is, and since you touched on caste, the idea of how much of this is inflected by caste differences, even between women? I'm thinking of the recent time use survey that actually shows some difference between upper caste and SC, SD women in terms of the amount of paid work that they do, so female upper castes actually do about half as much paid work as more disadvantaged caste communities. Just thinking about the role of caste in a lot of the work you're doing, including the effects of some of this job training and skill acquisition, employers perhaps discriminating between women on caste lines. I mean, it could be many different dimensions and I'm sure you've thought about it, but if any of the work that you've done speaks to that.

Rohini Pande:

Really, I don't know, and I would love to hear. In case there's any graduate students thinking of areas to work on, I think it would be very interesting to see it from the employer's perspective. I would say in general, we know that there is caste discrimination. We know there is gender discrimination, but we actually don't know a lot about how these interact. I actually haven't, I don't know much about it. I'd say, certainly in the settings in kind of rural India where we worked with the workers, they tend to typically be, I would say, obviously SC and SD. Upper caste actually are rarely part of that market to start with, so I think that's actually the hardest, that would be the hardest group to start thinking about, how do you ...

I had a couple of graduate students who, I think one thing that they've been working on which is interesting is looking at sort of spillover of norms actually from [inaudible 00:49:00] tribes to other general castes, so I think a lot of people talk about the Sanskritization that happens, but there actually is ... They did find some evidence that if you have a large enough number of, say, tribal women, you might see what becomes more acceptable as women's work.

Tariq Thachil:

You've mentioned the importance ... I'm again fielding a couple of different questions that have come in. You mentioned the impact of, the potential kind of impact of migration and female migration, and the need to maybe have policies designed to encourage and protect women migrants. I was wondering whether you think that that's actually feasible. I mean, even for men, a lot of male migrants in cities face quite hostile and exclusionary conditions within Indian cities, and thinking about the kind of migrant crisis triggered post-COVID, so while that may seem kind of a theoretically valuable exercise, do you think that it's actually kind of practical in a policy perspective, to think about making cities safe for Indian women migrants? I don't know if a couple of examples come to mind for you on that.

Rohini Pande:

The one thing we did a little bit of work on really, unfortunately, in the main state of a pilot, is ... What it had built on was something I remember when I was growing up in India, was very vivid to me, it was working women hostels. Actually, if you look at the data in the 1960s, there's a lot of investment by the Indian government in working women hostels. One thing I keep coming back to is, I think this was talked about a while ago, is that actually one piece of land that the Indian government still has a lot of access to is actually, is the textile industry. All the textile mills and so on, is they actually have access to land in cities and areas where they could actually be building a lot more working women hostels. In some ways, I think if you created those hostels, and I think especially if they were done by the state, which I think still has a lot of ability to make people feel confident about it, you would get women coming.

I think otherwise, other things that would be useful is just, right now there's very little information that families have about the kind of place where their child is going. One thing we saw again in some of work in Orissa is, you would literally have one story, or two, or not, of, let's say trafficking from a district, and all the villages would shut down and say, "No one from our village is going to go." I think there's value to improving the information. How far do I go? Is always a question, but I think you can hope that certainly some of these things in terms of just providing safer conditions at destination, and [inaudible 00:51:51].

Another thing, which is, I believe a lot in the state, but I actually think this may be a place where the private sector can be leveraged quite well. If you think about, at the top end, if you think of the emphasis [inaudible 00:52:04] skills training, at the end of high-end technology, you definitely see them entering right now garment industry, so you see some women. I think, again, rather than having these skilling institutes completely run by public sector, as it's done right now, I think introducing the private sector ... The private sector has points where they are actually very interested in having female workers. You might find them actually being willing to invest as well.

Tariq Thachil:

I'll ask one more question on this before, that's come in, before moving to a different topic. This is a question from Rachael [inaudible 00:52:38], who asks, is there a way in which the particularly high volume of male reverse migration may actually encourage women not to compete with men for jobs in local rural economies and counterintuitively, actually encourage them to migrate at higher levels in the post-pandemic future? She doesn't ask this, but it might be more local patterns of migration, maybe not inter-state, but intra-state, which is a big part of migration in India. Yeah, just putting that there.

Rohini Pande:

I think the one place where we have actually tried to look at bit at this was to see whether there's been crowd-out in NREGS work. That's really the main place I think we see it. I think the return migrants who are coming back right now, they're men returning to NREGS in a very short run, and just a random place like [inaudible 00:53:19], NREGS was close to 80% female activity because of the extent of out-migration, say, to [inaudible 00:53:26] and other places in [inaudible 00:53:27]. We see some small dips. There is some evidence of crowd-out, but it's not huge right now. I think the main probably is, I think NREGS remains a sort of rationed program, so, but I think there's some small evidence of that now. I doubt this will cause women to leave. Really depends on how much agency they have, and I think certainly in some parts of rural India, I'm not that optimistic that they have that much agency. I think, the more the concern is that it's going to lead to a lot of increased, for instance, in marriage, really some of the younger girls.

Tariq Thachil:

Let's go maybe to a couple of questions on variation within kind of, geographical variation. You talk a little bit about, and there has been some conversation about differences between north and south India, although some of your empirical work has a north Indian focus, but I know you've thought about this. This is kind of combining questions we got from [inaudible 00:54:18] and from [inaudible 00:54:19], which is really thinking a little bit about, why is it that we see the stickiness of norms within India? Even if we compare with Bangladesh, with Sri Lanka, within South Asia, let along other countries, we see different rates of female labor force participation rate. Is that due to underlying differences in norms, in patriarchal norms? Have you kind of thought a little about this, and what explains that kind of cross-national variation and maybe even some of the sub-national variation within India?

Rohini Pande:

Yeah. I think this is a hard question, in that I think economists love taking, everything you say, that we can speak better to than any other discipline, but this may be one that I suspect sociologists and political scientists may do a better job that I would. I think that one thing to me that is really striking, as an economist, is how little education has mattered. If you talk to the average economist right now, they will say, in economist language, the returns to women from education are in the marriage market. In a sort of crazy way of saying, is we can't actually explain why they're not working, and so they're getting a lot of education, they're not working, so it must be as the outside option, where it is. I think that, to me, is perhaps the most ... The way I think, indirectly, we get the clearest evidence that something like norms is going on, is that you're giving them the skills they need and there's a lot of education there, but they've just not been able to enter the labor market. Certainly, I think a lot of surveys of adolescent girls or young teenagers suggest that at the time in education, they're looking forward to, okay, so it's not as if there isn't a desire among that group to work.

I think turning to the cross-state variation, one thing that's worth noting is, I talked about how well-educated women seem to work at slightly higher rates in urban areas, but overall, rural female labor force participation rates are below urban labor force participation rates, so I think that's again something that suggests that perhaps sometimes constraints like safety or even childcare may be more salient in urban areas. I think the reason I bring it up is that that's a place actually where the [inaudible 00:56:39] breakdown stops. If you look for instance, in Karnataka, the lowest female labor force participation rates are in the district of Bangalore, and actually, the city of Bangalore, [inaudible 00:56:49] in Delhi. They suggest labor force participation of women is between 20 to 25%, so I think there's a lot of rural variation that you can explain by the typical north-south division and things, of just social norms, but where it breaks down is when you look at urban north Indian areas and urban south Indian areas. There, you just see low participation.

Tariq Thachil:

As we wrap up a couple of questions on kind of looking at alternative kind of channels of influence. One set of questions we've got, including from [inaudible 00:57:21], asks about the feasibility of targeting men. If men's social norms are both more binding and often the barrier, should we be thinking about interventions that directly target men? Have you had experience with that, and is that a kind of path forward that you think is an exciting one?

Rohini Pande:

I think [inaudible 00:57:46] and [inaudible 00:57:46] have some work on kind of adolescent gender training programs in schools, and they have some very promising evidence that boys' attitudes change. That's one kind of evidence that's seen. Some of the other evidence I've seen, actually, I haven't seen a lot of evidence that you can directly target men. I would say the positive evidence from the work we did is, we didn't see ... We tried to measure quite carefully, for instance, gender-based violence. We didn't actually see any rises in it, so we didn't see male backlash, and we did see in that particular case, over time, men's attitudes became more progressive. I think it would be great to think of targeting men directly. Again, another example I can think of is work in Saudi Arabia saying that there are these misperceived norms. Then, certainly giving men information about what the actual beliefs are is important. It work we've done in [inaudible 00:58:43], we didn't find a lot of evidence of misperception. It seemed like people's beliefs in the community were quite close to what actually men said, but I think that evidence, too, is fairly low-hanging fruit that you would want to get at.

Tariq Thachil:

We've had a couple of questions about kind of the political side of this. Since you said a nice thing about political scientists, I have to kind of follow up on that opening that you provided. I think one of the things, because you've done so much work with policymakers at different levels, there has been some effort by some political parties in India to kind of think about women as a political constituency. Maybe at the local level, sometimes at the state level. Have you seen or do you have any hope that women's work can actually become something that is a political issue that parties see as potentially something to capitalize on? I mean, you mentioned that 30% of women who are housewives want to work. If you're a politician, you might think of that as a constituency. Do you have any kind of evidence that that was at play or a possibility that might launch some of this forward?

Rohini Pande:

I think certainly the one thing, I know my [inaudible 00:59:54] has thought, I think, much more about it, is what's happening with self-help groups in India. I think her view is that they're, in some ways, getting co-opted by the state machinery right now, that they're becoming very much, anything that needs to be done has to include self-help groups, be it providing training, providing bank accounts, and now, often through COVID times, what you would do there. One is that these sort of women's collectives are seen as a way of providing state services at a point in time when state capacity is very low in rural areas. I think it's definitely states doing that, and as we know, self-help groups have had a pretty political history, especially in south India, or even doing microfinance and otherwise. I think that's one place we can see it.

Another place right now which I think is interesting, is what's going to happen to health. I think the Indian state has been very bad at investing in rural health. I don't know if that's going to change, but again, the rise of [inaudible 01:00:50] workers, of [inaudible 01:00:51] workers, these are large cadres of female workers, and maybe this comes to [inaudible 01:00:55]'s question a bit, of, how do we provide work close to home? The problem is they're terribly paid, all of them. I think the fear, again, is you're going to get them into the labor force for extremely important roles, but at low pay.

Tariq Thachil:

That's interesting and just gets to a final question before we wrap up, that a couple people, [inaudible 01:01:15] and also another person has asked, is just that, you mentioned self-help groups for that political role, but the questions we got was about the role of microfinance organizations, which obviously, there's a lot of kind literature and attention to. My sense is that some of your research has been a little bit more cautious about how much microfinance can help, maybe through its intended channel, but some of the notions of self-help groups, are you suggesting are kind of helpful in a kind of political and organizational sense? Is that kind of how you see it, or do you see a role for a kind of microfinance groups particularly that goes beyond this logic of self-help groups?

Rohini Pande:

Yeah, so I mean, I think the other place where we've it work is the group meeting setting. I think that is something members of early anthropological work from Bangladesh brought out a lot, was that this, microfinance gave women a reason to leave their home, cross the village, meet as a group, and improve mobility. I mean, again, thinking of financial inclusion, and you can think of microfinance, you can think of these customer service points of bank [inaudible 01:02:16], or bank [inaudible 01:02:17] that now states are doing, these are all ways of getting women to engage with the formal economy. To me, that was a huge ... I know we didn't find huge effects on poverty, but I always think, not so long ago, if you told people that poor Indian women can repay loans and be credible borrowers, it would not have had an audience. I think we don't give enough credit to microfinance for that.

Tariq Thachil:

By way of final question, I think I'd like to, given that we've had a lot of people on this webinar who are students themselves, and you referenced kind of one or two exciting areas for research in this, but I was wondering if you could just speak more broadly to, especially students who are listening in, about how they might think about doing research in this avenue. For many of them, their opportunities of directly accessing policymakers or doing large randomized controlled trials are not available. What are the ways in which they might get involved in this kind of research on topics like this? If you have kind of broad suggestions to them, I'm sure they'd welcome hearing them.

Rohini Pande:

Yeah, no, first, thank you for those of you who've been listening in. I mean, I think, in different ways, what is I think more accessible is secondary data sets. There are now several of them that you can actually directly download from the national sample surveys, PLFS and the time use. It's just freely downloadable, which is great. What I would encourage you to use, this is definitely how I started on my PhD as well, is read newspapers and watch [inaudible 01:03:52]. The governments in India are endless policy labs in terms of what they're doing, and then you just sort of think, just to hark back to a very long time ago when I did my PhD, I actually read in the coffee room about political reservation. That literally came from, I went to the [inaudible 01:04:11] library and this was the time when you had to kind of write things down by hand. You couldn't take computers, there weren't too many computers around. I think that's the one interesting part of working in India, is that the government is always implementing things. I mean, now it's not just the number of states. It's the district officers who are [inaudible 01:04:29], it's the [inaudible 01:04:30], so I think that's one way of getting in that, possibly. You can do it without that many financial resources.

Tariq Thachil:

Thank you very, very much, and we're over time already. I know we still a number of questions and I'm sorry to those of you whose questions were not asked, but we tried to get to as many of them as we can. Speaks to the interesting topic matter that you presented on, Rohini, that we had so many people wanting to engage further, and just that leaves me to thank everybody again, who helped organize this event, especially the CASI staff, for their tireless work in putting this together. Let me please again thank our distinguished speaker Rohini Pande. Thank you for joining us virtually. We hope to have you back at CASI and at the University of Pennsylvania in person. Thank you to everybody who is listening in from across the world, and we hope to see you again at CASI events in the future. Rohini, thank you so much.

Rohini Pande:

Thank you very much, it was great to be here, and I'll just say, if there were questions people had, feel free to drop me an email. I won't be a fast replier, but I hope I at some point in the next few weeks, I'll be able to reply to questions by email. Thank you, Tariq, very much for inviting me in the meeting. It's fascinating conversation.

Tariq Thachil:

Okay, thank you so much, and thanks everyone.