Conventional wisdom suggests that in a growing economy, as job opportunities increase and education levels rise, more women enter the paid workforce. The Indian experience, however, has been exactly the opposite. Since the liberalization of the economy, which began in 1991, Indian GDP has grown at about 6 or 7 percent per year. Education of Indian women has risen; fertility rates have fallen; and access to electricity, cooking gas, and water has improved. However, women’s labor force participation rate (LFPR) has fallen (pdf) from 42.7 percent in 2004–05 to 23.3 percent in 2017–18.
This means that three out of four Indian women are neither working nor seeking paid work, putting India among the bottom 10 countries in the world in terms of women’s workforce participation. (The only countries that rank lower than India are Egypt, Morocco, Somalia, Iran, Algeria, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.) The low LFPR is even more