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Hereditary skills contribute to post-Covid rise in Female Labour Force Participation in India

By Puneet Kumar Shrivastav, Ishwar Chandra Awasthi* 

Despite formalization of skill development, the participation of informally skilled female in the labour force is on rise in the post Covid period.
Female labour force participation rate (FLFPR) has been securely declining for a long time as the national level data clearly indicate. The missing working women has been a recurring phenomenon over the decades and continue to shrinking in the labour market. This is true both for rural and urban locations.
There are several reasons for contracting FLFPR. Socio-economic and cultural factors inhibit women to go outside the limited segment of labour market, particularly in the rural context. The other reasons usually attributed to increasing participation in schools and higher learning educational institutions, better family economic conditions and lack of better jobs available, particularly in non-farm sector, that has delayed or prevented their entry in the labour market.
The Covid-19 induced pandemic further slackened their participation in the labour market due to disruptions of economic activities resulting thereby joblessness. Reasons for shrinking FLFPR are varied and complex. Some evidences are consistent while others are contradictory. Nevertheless, declining FLFPR is clearly noticeable and conspicuous episode over a long time period.
Has the shrinking FLFPR arrested during post Covid-19 period? Is this evidence being reliable and sensible? We examine this phenomenon based on the PLFS data which helps us to understand the dynamics of female participation in labour market during ‘Pre Covid-Period’ (2017-18 & 2018-19), ‘Post Covid Period (2020-21 & 2021-22)’ and also ‘Through Covid Period (2019-20)’. The Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) provides the data for recent five years starting from July to June every year since 2017-18 to 2021-22.
The annual PLFS results show that FLFPR aged 15+ is estimated to be 30.0 percent, 32.5 percent and 32.8 percent during 2019-20, 2020-21 and 2021-22, respectively. Apparently, the rising FLFPR indicate positive development in some sense after a long haul of declining trends.
For all India, the FLFPR has shown a rising trend in the recent past, not only the FLFPR has increased but the female worker to population ratio (FWPR) has also increased and the gap is contracting which is also visible from falling unemployment rate from 5.7 percent in 2017-18 to 3.5 percent in 2020-21 as per the PLFS data.
Figure1: Trend of Female LFPR WPR & UR for All India all ages (usual status) (in %)
Source: NSSO, EUS & PLFS, MoSPI
The rising share of female LFPR/ WPR in the labour market may be attributed to the Covid 19- Pandemic that has compelled to join the labour market to eke out their living. The erosion of livelihood/income of a household member in the family, the female member of the family, in particular, were compelled to join the labour force thus rise in the labour force.
It is also argued by the policymakers that rising female labour force is an outcome of the policy initiatives taken for skill development by the government that has positively contributed towards the conducive environment for female to take active participation in the labour market. 
The share of Vocational Education and Training (VET) population has been low in the country and reported to be only 7.4 percent in 2017-18 for the population with age group of 12 to 59 years; however, due to the continuous policy support for skill development in the country skill proportion reached to 15.6 percent for the same age group which is a welcome sign for the economy.
The formalization of acquiring skills through VET among the individuals has increased over the period, however, the share of informal source constitutes a dominant share among the female labour force/workforce.
Table 1: Vocational Education Training (VET) among Female LF & Workforce for All India (usual status) (in %):
Authors' calculation using PLFS data. Estimates for 12-59 age group
The share of overall skill (both from formal and informal sources) has shown a substantial improvement (more than double i.e., from12 percent in 2017-18 to 24.7 percent in 2021-22). However, the major achievement is reported through informal sources.
Dividing the overall 5-year period into three categories as mentioned earlier, it clearly shows that more female has joined the labour force in the “post-Covid period”. Specially those who have acquired the skills thorough informal sources have joined the labour force and out them the share of hereditary skilled female is reported the highest.
As per the PLFS, the hereditary skill is defined “the expertise in a vocation or trade is sometimes acquired by the succeeding generations from the other members of the households, generally the ancestors. The expertise gained through significant ‘hands-on’ experience enables the individual to take up activities in self-employment capacity or makes them employable. Acquiring such marketable expertise by one, which enables him/her to carry out the trade or occupation of their ancestors over generations, was considered to be training through ‘hereditary’ sources”.
The share of informally skilled female labour force has soaring significantly since 2019-20. About 2.8 times growth can be observed in ‘hereditary’ category in 2021-22 over 2017-18. And nearly 1.8 times in ‘self-learning’ category and about 2 times in ‘on job learning’ category.
Therefore, it can be argued that the pandemic related hardship resulted in loss of income, wages, livelihood of the household members during the covid period that has pushed female to equip themselves with informal skills (especially from hereditary sources) to enter into the labour force so as actively seeking for the employment opportunities specially in the “post pandemic period”.
Not only in female LF, but under FWF too, the share of skilled women through informal sources has gone up by more than twice from 9.2 percent in 2017-18 to 20.6 in 2021-22. Similarly, the female workers with hereditary skills have shown increase in the ‘post Covid period’ and share has gone up by of more than 3 times in 2021-22 over 2017-18.
It is clearly evident that hereditary skill has acted as coping strategy to enhance livelihood and thereby rising participation in the labour force. From the policy perspective, it is indispensable to recognize the contribution of huge untapped hereditary skill and promote it through formalized skill routes.
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*Dr Shrivastav is Assistant Director/Faculty at the National Institute of Labour Economics Research and Development. Prof Awasthi is associated with the Institute for Human Development. Views are personal

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