In lower-middle-income countries, it is estimated that 35.5% of women over 15 participated in the labour force in 2018. Despite India’s rapid economic growth and increasing educational attainment, female labour force participation (FLFP) continues to lag behind, where the figure stands at a mere 29.4% (PLFS, July 2021-June 2022). There has been a burgeoning body of literature that has been investigating the primary causes—both on the supply and the demand side—behind such low rates of FLFP, especially in South Asia.
One reason previously suggested in the literature is cultural attitudes and social norms that limit labour opportunities for women, since many women in India have to seek consent from their spouse or father in order to work (Pande et al., 2016a). Another possible barrier to increasing female labour force participation is the location of work, with mobility constraints preventing workers from accessing labour opportunities (Cali & Miaari, 2013; Aggarwal, 2018). While a large body of research has explored the determinants of female employment outcomes in developing countries, including India, much of this work focuses on economic factors.
In this study, we will contribute to the literature by exploring to what extent work-from-home and other flexible work arrangements can affect women’s participation and success in the labour market. If there is a difference in women’s labour market outcomes between the experimental arms (work from home and work from workshop), we will shed light on the underlying mechanisms at play, in particular, the role of mobility restrictions and social norms around work outside the home. Moreover, research shows that there are further benefits to allowing women to work but still be present at home. Studies such as Haq et al. (2021) show that when policy interventions accommodate women’s domestic responsibilities, such as the introduction of flexible working hours and community childcare support, this not only increases their security and freedom from scrutiny but also leads to improvements in their children’s health outcomes.
We seek to leverage our extensive experience in the area of labour and development economics with a focus on gender. Specifically, we aim to shed light on the following questions:
- Can we increase the labour force participation of women if we offer work that can be done from home?
- Does working from home help women to circumvent the negative perceptions of working and therefore allow them to work without being subject to social stigma?
- Does assignment to work from home treatment arm increase the likelihood of multitasking between economic production and home activities compared to assignment to work in the workshop arm?
This study will be conducted in Rajasthan in India. The subject population for the Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT) will be selected from the villages participating in the research study. Through an RCT, 500 rural women will be offered work at home or in a village workshop to manufacture handicraft products. Once the women agree to participate, they will attend a short training in the village workshop to learn how the product is made and the quality standards expected from them. So, all eligible women in the village who complete the short training will be offered an opportunity to earn income; however, we will randomise the location of work. Half the women in the sample will be asked to work from their homes, while the other half will be asked to work from a common workshop very close to their village. We will further cross-randomise women across both arms into the social revelation sub-treatment. In the revelation treatment, we let women assigned to this arm know that their names will be displayed on posters around the village to encourage other women to join the program. On the other hand, in the no revelation or control arm, women’s names will not be put up on posters, and we do not reveal this information to them. Using detailed time use data on multitasking and household surveys on perceptions in the village regarding women’s work and women’s role in the household, we will then examine two potential mechanisms driving the differences in labour supply: complementarity of in-home activities with economic production and negative social perceptions around women’s work.