Does the misreporting of women’s participation in the labor force matter?

Recently, Surjit Bhalla held me accountable for (allegedly) using female labor force participation (FLFP) as an indicator of women’s status. He argues that the FLFP measurement reflects cross-national differences in definitions of work, rather than the basic position of women. For example, women’s work in domestic production is not counted in the FLFP. Thus, women’s participation in the labor force is underestimated.

In a purely statistical sense, he is right. Home production is indeed understated in the FLFP. For example, when the female labor force participation rate in West Bengal expands to include all economic activities that allow households to save costs, it rises from 28 percent to 52 percent.

But if we are interested in patriarchy, we must distinguish between different types of work.

Not all work is liberating. Ethnographies, focus groups and surveys tell us that the contribution of rural women is almost ignored. “Work” men, and sometimes women themselves. Women’s work on the farm does not guarantee women respect, autonomy or protection from violence. Even if northern Indian women work all day, harvesting, grinding grain and collecting firewood, they still eat last. As the 19th century Haryana proverb says:Jore Se Nara Gisna Hai (women tie up like cattle, work and endure everything).

In addition, we must distinguish between unpaid household contributions and paid work in the public sphere. When women work in family businesses, they remain under control over relatives. Jobs in the market, factory and office offer many more opportunities for women. solidarity. Through paid work in the public sphere, women gain respect, build diverse friendshipdiscover more egalitarian alternatives, collectively criticize patriarchal privileges and plucked up the courage to resist injustice.

Paid work in the public sphere is counted according to FLFP. Thus, while mismeasuring FLFP erases women’s valuable contributions to their household, it correctly tracks the types of work that provide pathways to women’s emancipation and solidarity.

Figure 1. Percentage of women who say men eat first

Figure 1. Percentage of women who say men eat first

Note: The map was compiled by the author according to the data https://ihds.umd.edu/.

The share of women in paid work in the public sphere also varies considerably around the world. This is both a cause and a consequence of the global heterogeneity of gender relations.

Table 1 below shows how regions differ in terms of “economic participation and opportunity”. This includes gender differences in labor force participation, wages for similar work, labor income, share of managerial positions and specialists).

Table 1. World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap, Regional Indicators, 2022

Table 1. World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap, Regional Indicators, 2022

Source: World Economic Forum, Global Gender Gap Report 2022

South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa fell into what I callpatrilineal trap.The share of women in paid work in the public sphere remains low, as available earnings are too small to compensate for the loss of male honor. Thus, it is men who go out into the world, run the family business and migrate to new economic opportunities. Women are more secluded, immersed in ideals self-sacrifice, dependent on patriarchal guardians. The few women who encroach on male territory are vulnerable to patriarchal backlash: harassment as well as violence. While South Asian domestic women try to forge friendshipthey remain committed to patriarchal ideals.

Figure 2. Patriarchal ideologies persist in South Asia

Figure 2. Patriarchal ideologies persist in South Asia

Source: The World Bank, 2022 using World Values ​​Survey data.

East Asia was once patriarchal too, but job-creating economic growth has allowed women to pursue their own emancipation. Daughters purchased “face “ (respect and social position) transfer of incomesupporting their families and exercising filial piety like sons. As women migrated to the cities, they made friends, mourned injustice, and discovered more egalitarian alternatives. Encouraged by the support of their peers, women began to expect and requirement better – in dates, housekeeping and labor Relations. Freely communicating in cities, young people increasingly met before marriage, chose their own partners and then created nuclear households. They are free from parental control. This is a direct consequence of paid work in the public sphere.

Thus, attempts to correctly count women’s home work may please statisticians, but tell us little about patriarchy. Paid work in the public sphere always counts, and heterogeneity in this regard reflects significant differences in gender attitudes around the world.

Photo courtesy of Alice Evans.