BS Number Wise: The surprisingly low number of employed women graduates | Business Standard News

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A larger share of them remain without work than men, and the disparity is telling in some states

The 2022 study, “Women, Business and the Law”, has taken into account legal reforms in the period from October 2, 2020, to October 1, 2021.

World Bank data shows that 18.4 per cent of the female population aged 15 or above finds employment in India. It is 32.1 per cent in Bangladesh.

India’s first women graduates, Chandramukhi Basu and Kadambini Bose, faced multiple challenges to earn their college education in the late 1800s. The university refused regular admission, a prejudiced professor unfairly gave a failing grade in a crucial subject, and despite passing exams names would be excluded from the list of successful candidates.

Indian women graduates, like the two pioneers, perhaps today face a host of obstacles when they look for employment. Less than three out of every 10 women graduates are employed, shows the government’s Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) 2020-21. For comparison, seven out of every ten male graduates find jobs. The gap has widened in recent years, as chart 1 shows.


Income effect is one reason for the lower participation of women despite education. A woman is likely to be out of the workforce if there is sufficient family income even without her working, noted a 2018 study entitled “Indian Paradox: Rising Education, Declining Women’s Employment” by authors Esha Chatterjee, Sonalde Desai and Reeve Vanneman of the University of Maryland. The study noted a culture that fetes “stay at home” and the segregated nature of many jobs prevent women from working after education.

“It is not so much the lack of adequate jobs for moderate levels of education but the exclusion of women from these jobs that explains the low rates of labor force participation for these women,” it said.


An analysis of state data shows wide differences. Sikkim has a worker population ratio, or share of the population employed, of 77.4 per cent for men and 67.1 per cent for women. The gap is wide in Lakshadweep islands and Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state. Only 14.5 per cent of women graduates in Uttar Pradesh hold jobs (<see chart 2>).

The coronavirus pandemic resulted in more job losses for women than men. A part of this is to do with the economic distress in sectors that employ more women. But India’s statistics on educated and unemployed women reveal a trend that precedes the pandemic and is worsened by a gloomy outlook for employment in general.

Business Standard looked at the share of employed persons among graduates and those who did not have the opportunity to pick up basic literacy. The non-literate population has higher employment than graduates (see chart 3).


World Bank data shows that 18.4 per cent of the female population aged 15 or above finds employment in India. It is 32.1 per cent in Bangladesh.

Put differently, a Chandramukhi Basu or Kadambini Bose in today’s times may have had a better chance of employment across the eastern border.

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