In contrast to almost half of the world’s female population that is working, only about 25 percent of India’s half a billion adult females report being part of the labor force (United Nations 2013 and India’s Periodic Labor Force Survey 2017, respectively). This low rate of Indian women's labor market participation is puzzling for a country that has experienced rapid fertility transition (World Bank, various years) and broad increases in women’s educational attainment (Census of India 2001 and 2011), along with substantial economic growth since the 1990s. Instead, these changes have been accompanied by a consistently low share of women working in urban areas (Klasen and Pieters 2015) and a real reduction in the share of women working in rural areas, between 1987 and 2011 (Afridi, Dinkelman and Mahajan 2018) in India.
Previous work shows that low market returns to women’s work can be one factor, along with lack of ‘good’ jobs for women (Afridi, Dinkelman and Mahajan 2018; Afridi, Bishnu and Mahajan 2019) as the gender gap in educational attainment declines, explaining the low levels of women’s labor force participation. In addition, women’s job information networks are often narrow and restrictive (Calvo-Armengol and Jackson 2004; Mortensen and Vishwanath 1994), reducing their flow of information while social norms against women working can constrain their work status further (Field et al 2016a; Field et al 2016b).
We design an intervention in India’s capital, Delhi, to analyse both supply and demand side factors that inhibit women from working. Specifically, we address the employer-employee matching constraint by offering women (and their husbands) a chance to register with a job search aggregator. In another treatment, we offer the service to the woman’s friends as well, to study whether the response of the network differentially affects service take-up and employment status of women.
Most of our sample women and their spouses belong to the informal sector of workers, who are highly vulnerable to economic and health shocks. Following the COVID19 crisis and the subsequent national lockdown in India commencing 24 March 2020, we are also interested in examining the impact of this shock on their lives and livelihoods. In particular, we aim to study 1) the economic fallout of the COVID19 crisis on the livelihoods and incomes of the families in our study sample, who are either self-employed or daily wage-earners 2) the coping mechanisms that these vulnerable families adopt in responding to and in recovering from the crisis, specifically the role of their social networks 3) the effectiveness of policy response by the government in mitigating impacts of the crisis on these households' food security and income shock, especially comparing minimum income support with in-kind transfers (free grains) 4) the effects of the pandemic on mental and physical health of these individuals, during and in the aftermath of the health and economic crisis. Our study design will allow us to compare and contrast the effect of the pandemic on both men and women's outcomes, including on employment, mental and physical well-being. We intend to study these implications of of the COVID-19 crisis on our study sample by incorporating additional questions specifically related to the pandemic in our midline surveys.