Mumbai: Stagnant or falling participation of women in India’s workforce has been a sore point in India’s growth story. Various surveys show that labour participation rates are in fact lower among the more educated and richer women in India compared with those relatively less well-off. Low participation among educated women is partly attributable to choices made in early life, especially at the school level, argues a new research paper by Stephan Klasen of the University of Gottingen and Soham Sahoo of Indian Institute of Management Bangalore.

Based on a nationally representative data set from India, they find that even within the same household, girls are 20 percentage points less likely than boys to study in technical streams, namely science and commerce. Instead, women tend to favour arts or humanities. The authors further show, using students’ past scores in mathematics tests, that this difference cannot be explained by differences in cognitive ability. Instead, other factors such as the high cost of studying technical subjects, often magnified due to need for private tuitions, might be discouraging girls from choosing these streams.

The choice of stream in school has a large bearing on jobs and earnings in adult life. Thus, it is not surprising that the gender pay gap in India, at 30%, is among the highest in the world, according to the Global Wage Report 2016-17 published by the International Labour Organization (bit.ly/2NJ3pRp).

Klansen and Sahoo argue that the government should focus on creating incentives for girls to take up technical education. This could go a long way in bridging the gender pay gap.

However, the gender pay gap might not completely vanish once girls start choosing school subjects similar to what boys do. A recent report by the ministry of statistics and programme implementation showed that women in India earn less than men even if they have the same educational qualifications.

Also read: Gender Segregation in Education and Its Implications for Labour Market Outcomes: Evidence from India (bit.ly/2Ndnsum).

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