Mapping unpaid women’s work is India’s answer to jobs puzzle

A woman carries dried wood on her head past a villager using a manual water pump in Nandurbar district, Maharashtra, India. (Bloomberg pic)

NEW DELHI: India is trying to improve its jobs statistics with time-use surveys to estimate the value of unpaid work, especially household chores by women.

The government plans to start a yearlong exercise in January to survey households on how they spend their time, Debi Prasad Mondal, director general of the National Sample Survey Office, said in an interview in New Delhi. Its findings will be released around June 2020 and the plan is to repeat it every three years.

“We will be able to understand how much time is spent in cooking and washing,” Mondal said July 26. The findings would give policymakers more information about employment in the economy and how to target welfare programs.

The world’s fastest-growing major economy has some huge data gaps that make it difficult to get a good reading on what’s happening in key sectors, such as the jobs market, retail and housing. About 700 million Indians, more than twice the population of the US, aren’t part of the workforce and their contribution at home isn’t recorded in the national income.

Women at Work
Globally, women work more than men. They perform around 75% of the world’s unpaid care and domestic work, valued at 13% of global gross domestic product. If included in national accounts, the unpaid care economy would represent between 15 to over 50% of gross domestic product, according to a United Nations report.

The contrast is starker in India where a large number of women never join the workforce or quit jobs to take care of children and the elderly at home. Women make up 49% of the 1.3 billion-strong nation and spent about 352 minutes a day on unpaid work against 51.8 minutes by men.

India’s GDP can grow by 27% if women’s participation in the economy is raised to the same level as those of men, according to a research by the International Monetary Fund. The rate of women’s presence in the labour force is declining even as nearly 43% of them earn more than or equal to their spouses, the finance ministry’s Economic Survey showed.

“India’s labour and employment surveys broadly capture the work done by men. Many women are not in employment so we don’t get much details about them,” said Mondal.

A breakdown of how women spend time can help design policies that make their lives easier and bring electoral gains for governments. A case in point is Modi’s program to provide cooking gas in rural India to help women save time spent in collecting firewood. A time-use survey will show how women are using this spare time.

Policy Implications
The data can help policy makers draw inference for employment and welfare programs, particularly for women and children, and generate more reliable estimates of the work force and national income. The survey can be used to assess the reasons for shifts in labor participation rates and effects of policy changes on the pattern of activities, government think-tank NITI Aayog said in a report last year.

The challenge for the government will be to put the data to use and address issues such as gender equality, women empowerment and unemployment. India first conducted pilots on time-use in six states in 1998, but didn’t follow it up with full-fledged surveys in last 20 years.

“We didn’t do time-use survey earlier because the need of the country was different. Mostly developed countries have this because people are more concerned about employment.,” Mondal said of the national survey that will include India’s 150,000 households.