Research / Weiss Fund Supported ResearchJan 03, 2020

Women’s Employment in India: Intra-Household and Intra-Personal Constraints

Madeline McKelway

India’s female labor force participation rate is among the lowest in the world. Research suggests many women in India want to work, husbands’ opposition to their work is a key constraint, and husbands can be persuaded that their wives should work. But if women want to work and their husbands can be persuaded, why do women not persuade them? This paper argues that doing so requires a general sense of self-confidence that is lacking amongst women in India. My experiment offered women in rural Uttar Pradesh a psychosocial intervention to raise generalized self-efficacy (GSE), or beliefs in own ability to attain desired outcomes. The intervention produced a persistent gain in GSE. I cross-randomized a short video promotion of women’s employment for women’s families. The promotion given alone increased short-run employment, which implies families in this setting can be persuaded. The GSE intervention on its own also raised short-run employment, and data suggest a key channel was giving women confidence to persuade their families. Short-run employment under both interventions was no higher and may have been lower than under either alone. I find no effects on long-run employment, suggesting it is harder to persuade families that women should stay in the workplace than enter it. ∗Earlier versions of this paper were circulated under the titles “Vicious and Virtuous Cycles: Self-Efficacy and Employment of Women in India” and “Women’s Self-Efficacy and Women’s Employment: Experimental Evidence from India.