Child care and educated women's labour market behaviour: Evidence from Kerala

We seek to develop a proposal to explore the effects of child care responsibility on higher educated women's labour market behavior in Kerala which could lead to a child care intervention. With the relatively large base of women with higher education not translating into correspondingly high levels of employment and with a continued emphasis on domesticity co-existing with high unemployment rates, Kerala presents a site for a unique case study of women's labour market behavior. Explanations for the high unemployment of women in Kerala include the lack of employable skills (Nagaraj, 1999), supply side factors like strong job preferences and restrictions on mobility (Devi, 2002), overcrowding in a narrow range of feminised jobs (Kodoth and Eapen, 2005) and child care responsibilities (Sebastian 2019). A decline in unemployment witnessed among higher educated women post 2004-05, mostly due to a contraction of the labour force, was interpreted as a discouraged worker effect (Mathew, 2015). However, young higher educated women observed to have high job aspirations and relatively low reservation wages (compared to older generation women), deferred employment or dropped out of the job market on account of child care but sought to enter or return after a gap (Sebastian,2019). Women from relatively poor backgrounds were especially disadvantaged as their mothers, being employed, could not provide replacement care (Ibid). Public child care is perceived as poor quality while the price of desirable private child care facilities was unaffordable to a section of women. Therefore, the replacement cost of self provided care led to interruptions in women's employment trajectory and imposed a motherhood penalty on them. Affordable good quality child care may have wider benefits as it could provide children with valued social and learning skills. The feminist economic argument that children are public goods justifies state subsidy for good quality child care (Folbre, 1994). State investment that enhances children's capabilities would benefit the economy and the state (through taxes). To develop a full fledged proposal, we will undertake the following activities: 1. Analyze secondary data on women's labour force participation in terms of its relationship with education levels, marriage and child care. 2. Conduct a structured survey cum interviews with a minimum of 50 higher educated young mothers below 40 years distributed over a rural and urban ward in Ernakulum district (which has the highest employment rates among women in Kerala). A purposive sample will be selected to represent diversity according to employment status, age, number and age of children, income class and social groups. The interviews will map the life course of each woman and plot information around key processes that affect employment prospects and trajectories. It will also generate narratives on women's aspirations, perceptions and experiences. Selection of wards with at least one private sector child care facility will facilitate discussions with the sample women and with care providers on the influence on demand of the timing of services, cost and distance from homes. 3. Identify and initiate discussions with potential partners in the private, public or co-operative sectors to set up interventions providing good quality affordable child care for women.

RFP Cycle:
Summer 2021
  • Tirtha Chatterjee
  • Project development grant