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Empowering India’s daughters

“Societal preference for sons in India is historical and long-standing, and appears inoculated against development.”



The pink-coloured Economic Survey 2017-18 contends that the societal preference for sons in India is historical and long-standing, and appears inoculated against development.

While the preference has its roots in culture, the factors driving it are entwined with economic and practical considerations. In the largely patriarchal Indian society, parents perceive daughters as liabilities who are to be married off on payment of dowry. Given limited household resources, there is little incentive to invest in daughters’ education and (employable) skills, or even health.

This, in turn, causes women to be at a disadvantage as potential entrants to the productive workforce, and in achieving financial independence. Indeed, they end up having no choice but to rely mainly on their husband’s income, with the limited agency regarding their own life and family, let alone to contribute towards their parents’ well-being.

The opposite is true for sons who are viewed as assets that support their families and are, therefore, worthy of investment. As long as these are the beliefs and practices of the majority in the community, it is ‘rational’ for individual families to follow suit, and we are stuck in a ‘bad equilibrium’. This is a vicious cycle that perpetuates son preference.

Even in the case of parents that do not subscribe to this school of thought and are equally invested – financially and otherwise – in the education of both daughters and sons, there may be other constraints to women’s economic participation. Examples include time poverty due to the primary responsibility of the care economy and restricted mobility on account of safety concerns.

The policy push in the form of the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009 and programmes such as Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao has led to significant improvement in gender parity in school enrolment. The gender parity index ─ the ratio of the number of females to the number of males that are enrolled at a particular level of education ─ stood at 1.03 and 1.01 respectively for primary and secondary schooling in 2014-15, although disparity persists in higher education (gender parity index of 0.92) (Ministry of Human Resource Development (MoHRD), 2016).

However, more female education does not seem to be translating into more female employment. The Survey reports that female labour force participation rate (FLFPR) has, in fact, declined from 36% in 2005-06 to 24% in 2015-16. Besides, culture may be an explanatory factor for the low levels of FLFPR but not for its decline over time as cultural norms are unlikely to have become more stringent. Other elements seem to be at play.

Understanding and addressing constraints on women’s economic participation

A body of research has emerged in recent years that seeks to understand the alarming trend of stagnant or falling FLFPR in recent decades. (See I4I e-symposium on ‘Women and work’.)

For instance, in an International Growth Centre (IGC) study, Afridi et al. (2016) analyse National Sample Survey (NSS) data to show that the fall in FLFPR is concentrated among rural, married women. They argue that this is because of a lack of job opportunities that are commensurate with women’s enhanced education levels, and their time is better spent at home on child care and domestic work; increased income of husbands enables them to make this choice. Chatterjee, Murgai and Rama (2016) emphasise the need to generate suitable jobs opportunities outside of farming and close to place of residence.

Other recommendations by stakeholders include flexible working conditions, adequate maternity leave (Ahmed 2017), and reliable childcare facilities to enable women to manage their dual responsibilities of work and home; strengthening public services and infrastructure to ease the burden of unpaid domestic tasks; addressing gender discrimination in the job market (Deshpande, Goyal and Khanna 2016); ensuring women’s safety in public spaces to facilitate their mobility (Pande 2014); and encouraging female entrepreneurship via access to finance (Field and Pande 2017, KC and Tiwari 2014), networks, information, and markets (Ghani, Kerr and O’Connell 2012).

Further work is needed on disentangling the various constraints on female economic participation and assigning relative weights to them, so as to get policy priorities right and allocate resources efficiently. Importantly, this would require closing the gender data gap ─ a problem that exists in India and beyond. So although mind-set changes can only take place slowly over a long time horizon, concrete measures can be designed and implemented in the short- to medium-term to change the economic dynamics and address practical constraints at the least.

Promoting women’s education: Beyond enrolment

Education is fundamental to women’s empowerment. In an environment where women are able to engage effectively in productive economic activities, parents are more likely to not just send their daughters to school, but to actually focus on their education and skilling in order to prepare them for the workforce.1 In their research in Bangladesh, Heath and Mobarak (2012) found that the explosive growth of the garment industry had a significant positive influence on girls’ educational attainment, and delayed marriage and childbirth.

They also showed that job growth had a much stronger effect on the demand for education vis-à-vis a large-scale government conditional cash transfer programme to encourage female schooling.

Despite the improved gender parity in school enrolment in India, there is a gender gap of 19.6% (2011) in the adult literacy rate2 (MoHRD, 2016). The Annual Survey of Education Report (2017) tested rural youth (14-18-year-olds) on applying basic foundational skills of reading and arithmetic to real-world situations and found that females almost always perform worse than males. Why is it that despite the increased presence of girls in educational institutions, they still significantly lag behind boys in terms of learning outcomes?

One possibility is that this is a time-use issue. According to ASER (2017), 89.4% of females versus 76.8% of males do household work daily. The differential outcomes may also be a manifestation of boys receiving a lot more support for their education at home as compared to girls. Does such discrimination pervade the classrooms as well? These are important questions for further research.


  1. Maitra, Pal and Sharma (2016) find a systematic female disadvantage in enrolment in private schools, which are considered as more efficient than government schools by parents.
  2. The Adult Literacy rate is the percentage of the 15-24-year-old population that can both read and write, and understand a short simple statement on everyday life.

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of League of India or of any of its partners.

Reprinted with permission from Ideas for India

Nalini Gulati

Nalini Gulati is a Country Economist at the IGC India Central Programme. Previouisly, she was an Economist at Cambridge Economic Policy Associates (CEPA) India where she worked on the Second Evaluation of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI). She has also worked as a Short Term Consultant at the World Bank in New Delhi, India.

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Moving Towards Better Definitions of ‘Urban’ in India



According to the 2011 Census, 31% of the country is ‘urban’. Using definitions of urbanisation that are different from those used by the government, this column demonstrates that this figure may be an underestimate. It is important to recognise and fix the flaws in the current method of defining urban areas as it forms the basis for important policies such as eligibility for government schemes.

According to the 2011 Census, India is 31% urban – a statistic that is much-relied on to shape development strategies and perceptions about the country. The percent of India governed as urban – that is, administered by urban local bodies such as municipal corporations – is even lower.

In recent research, we compare the urbanisation rate of India using the two government definitions – the administrative definition and Census definition – which can be discretionary in nature, with two alternative definitions that make use of objective population threshold criteria (Tandel, Hiranandani and Kapoor 2016).

We argue that alternative definitions are better suited than the administrative definition used by the government to determine policies like eligibility for Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA).

Administrative and Census Definitions:

State governments ultimately determine the administrative status of settlements. The default category of a settlement is rural and it becomes urban only after the state government converts it following a requisite legal process.

Although there are guidelines that propose population and other criteria in order for settlements to be governed as urban, these are not binding on state governments. As a result, the decisions to convert settlements from rural panchayats to urban local bodies can be arbitrary and may vary across states. There may even be pressures or incentives (such as being able to access rural schemes) to not convert settlements to the urban category, even when they are de facto urban in nature.

The Census of India acknowledges the existence of settlements that are de facto urban but are governed as rural by creating a category called “Census towns” to identify such settlements. The criteria for being a Census town are having a population of at least 5,000, density of at least 400 persons per square kilometre, and at least 75% of the male main1 working population engaged in non-agricultural activities.

However, contrary to common perception, even the Census uses discretion in actually identifying these towns (Pradhan 2013). The Census includes these Census towns together with settlements that are urban as per the administrative definition in its definition of urban.

Alternate Definitions Based on Population Criterion:

As a counterpoint to the administrative definition and the census definition of urban, we study how the scenario would change if India used a population criterion of 5,000 or a population criterion of 2,500 for defining urban. These definitions are used by countries such as Ghana, Qatar, Mexico and Venezuela2.

We find that while India is only 26% urban using the administrative definition, it is 31% urban by the census definition, 47% urban by the 5,000 population definition, and 65% urban by the 2,500 population definition. The differences in urbanisation rates using different definitions are even starker at the state level.

For instance, Kerala goes from being 15% urban by the administrative definition to 99% urban by the 5,000 and 2,500 population definitions.

Urbanisation Rates and Socioeconomic Indicators:

It is difficult to find a precise definition that could capture the true nature of all places. However, studies like Buckley et al. (2009) and Khan (2000) have established a link between urbanisation and socioeconomic indicators, and one way to assess the suitability of various urban definitions is to examine the relationship of urbanisation rates using different definitions with these socioeconomic indicators.

In a system that justifies special treatment to rural areas because they are thought to be more deprived or agrarian, an examination of the relationship between the chosen definition and development or agricultural indicators is warranted.

We conduct a state-level comparison of the relationship between urbanisation rates as measured by the administrative, Census, and alternative definitions, and poverty rates, per capita net state domestic product, and share of working population engaged in agriculture and cultivation.

We find that the census definition and 5,000 population definition have a stronger relationship with these characteristics as compared to the administrative definition.

Eligibility for Government Schemes:

Using inaccurate definitions of urban and rural can be costly since, among other reasons, these categories are used as the basis for determining eligibility for various state and central government schemes, and standards of public goods and services delivery. For instance, MNREGA – the world’s largest employment guarantee programme in terms of a number of beneficiaries (Honorati, Gentilini, and Yemtsov 2015) – makes use of the administrative definition to identify rural areas and allocate funds to them.

A faulty or arbitrary way of defining settlements as rural implies that there is arbitrariness in the way in which people across the country are eligible for an employment guarantee. There is also a possibility that MNREGA funds are being allocated to settlements that are actually urban but are classified as rural by the administrative definition.

We compare the use of MNREGA – which has in-built self-selection mechanisms of providing unskilled manual work at close-to-minimum wage so that only the most deprived people demand it – with the four urban definitions, and find a surprising trend.

According to the administrative definition, more urban states3make more use of the scheme, while according to the other three definitions more rural states make more use of the scheme.

Figure 1. The relationship between MNREGA expenditure and urbanisation in Indian states and Union Territories (UTs)

Note: Eligible population is urban population when using the administrative definition.

This observation prompted us to undertake a district-level study of the relationship between urbanisation rates and MNREGA use. We control for other factors that could affect MNREGA use such as state-level effects, district development indicators, and political characteristics. We find that when using the administrative definition, more urban districts make more use of MNREGA, whereas using the 5,000 and 2,500 population definitions, more rural districts make more use of MNREGA.

There may be several explanations for this. For instance, district administrative staff of more administratively urban districts may be more adept at using government resources, or information asymmetries may be less in more urban districts leading residents to demand more of government schemes.

However, we believe that it is more plausible that the relationship indicates that the administrative definition is a poor indicator of the urban character of the district. This is supported by the fact that alternative definitions relate better with development indicators, and that we do not find evidence that more rural districts by the administrative definition as compared to alternative definitions (in other words, districts in which the administrative definition overestimates rural rates to a greater extent) make more use of MNREGA. This suggests that the scheme’s self-selection mechanisms broadly work in this respect.

Recognise and Fix Flaws in Current Urban Definitions:

Taken together, the results present a strong case that alternative definitions of urban are better suited than the administrative definition to reflect the urban character of settlements in India.

A precise and perfect method for defining urban and rural areas may be difficult and costly. Therefore, it may be more prudent to reduce the stakes of such definitions, to make definitions more reflective of ground realities, and to reduce the scope for political exploitation of subjective categorisation.

One way to reduce the stakes of definitions is to use objective criteria such as poverty rates and proportion of agricultural workers to determine eligibility for government schemes and policies and access to social services, wherever possible. Where this is not possible, instead of a standard definition for all scenarios, it may be worthwhile to explore using different definitions to determine eligibility for particular programmes.

Such an approach is used in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, where different concepts of rural are used for different government programmes, depending on their objectives.

However, there is still merit in moving towards a more accurate and general definition of urban since characteristics such as population and population density themselves alter the nature of places and prospects of their residents, justifying the need to treat places differently.

Hence, while we adapt and reduce reliance on urban-rural categorisation, it is also important to recognise and fix the flaws in India’s current method of defining urban areas.


  1. Main workers are defined by the Census as those who “worked for the major part of the reference period (six months or more)”, as opposed to marginal workers.
  2. More countries, like Argentina and Ethiopia, use a 2,000 cutoff rather than 2,500, but we use the more conservative number as the threshold.
  3. More urban states, by the administrative definition, are states with a higher proportion of their population living in settlements that are categorised as urban by the administrative definition.

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the personal opinions of the authors. League of India does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.

Published with permission from Ideas For India (, an economics and policy portal.

Komal Hiranandani

Komal Hiranandani is Consulting Senior Associate at IDFC Institute and a graduate student at Cornell University's Applied Economics programme. She also holds a B.A. (Hons) in Government from Georgetown University and is awaiting her L.L.B. (General) degree from Mumbai University. Her previous positions include Programme Officer at Asia Society India Centre.

Mudit Kapoor

Mudit Kapoor is an Associate Professor of Economics at Indian Statistical Institute, Delhi Centre. Before this, he was Assistant Professor of Economics and a Research Fellow at the Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad. Prof. Kapoor’s research interests are in Development Economics, Gender and Political Economy.

Vaidehi Tandel

Vaidehi Tandel is Senior Associate at IDFC Institute, Mumbai. She has a PhD in Economics from the University of Mumbai. She has published co-authored papers in peer-reviewed journals and has co-authored a chapter in an edited book on the Indian economy. Her research interests lie in the areas of new institutional economics, urban economics, urban and metropolitan governance, and political economy.

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First Meeting of Think Tank on Framework for National Policy on E-Commerce Tomorrow

It will provide a credible forum for an inclusive and fact-based dialogue leading to recommendations for informed policy making.



NEW DELHI: Minister of Commerce & Industry Suresh Prabhu will chair the first meeting of the think tank on the ‘Framework for National Policy on E-commerce’ to be held on April 24, 2018.

Senior officers of the ministries/ departments of the Government of India involved in different aspects of e-commerce; high-level representatives from the industry bodies, e-commerce companies, telecommunication companies and IT companies; Reserve Bank of India; and independent experts have been invited to participate in the meeting.

The think tank on the Framework for National Policy on E-commerce has been established recently by the Department of Commerce. It will provide a credible forum for an inclusive and fact-based dialogue leading to recommendations for informed policy making, so that the country is adequately prepared to take advantage of the opportunities, and meet the challenges, that would arise from the next wave of advancements in the digital economy.

The think tank on the Framework for National Policy on E-commerce will seek to collectively deliberate on the challenges confronting India in the arena of digital economy with a view to developing recommendations for a comprehensive and overarching national policy on e-commerce.

Some of the issues that will be discussed by the think tank include the following aspects of e-commerce and digital economy: physical and digital infrastructure, regulatory regime, taxation policy, data flows, server localisation, intellectual property rights protection, FDI, technology flows, responding to disruptions in industrial organisation, need for skill development and trade-related aspects.

Developments in e-commerce at the WTO and evolving appropriate national position on the underlying issues would be another important dimension of the discussions of the think tank on the Framework for National Policy on E-commerce.

The think tank will explore options for providing a fillip to entrepreneurship in the digital economy. It will identify specific policy interventions for nurturing domestic firms and create jobs in e-commerce.

Representatives of almost fifty organisations are expected to participate in the first meeting of the think tank on the Framework for National Policy on E-commerce to be held on 24 April 2018.

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India Exploring Signing of MoU for ‘Road Information System’

This would be developed on lines of the system run by the Express Highways Information Corporation of South Korea.



NEW DELHI: Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari has said that India is exploring an agreement with South Korea for the introduction of Highways Information System in the country.

This would be developed on lines of the system run by the Express Highways Information Corporation of South Korea, with integrated monitoring of a highway at a centralized control room.

Inaugurating the 29th National Road Safety Week in New Delhi’s Vigyan Bhavan today, the Minister spelt out the ministry’s priorities in ensuring safety of road users in the country.

He informed that he has fixed a target of bringing down the number of road fatalities to half from the around 1.5 lakh accidental deaths reported when he took over.

Gadkari said though progress has been achieved in this respect, he is still not satisfied and aspires to keep working in this direction.

The Ministry organizes the Road Safety Week every year to create awareness among general public and improve upon the safety of road users.

This year, Road Safety Week is being organized from 23rd to 29th of April and the focus is on schools and commercial drivers.

Addressing the participants Gadkari requested that every student be made a road safety ambassador for his family and for the society. Various activities have been organized for school / college students, drivers and all road users.

The Minister gave away awards to fifteen school children who won the national level essay competition on road safety. The top three winners were given cash prizes of Rs 15,000, Rs 10,000 and Rs 5,000 and a certificate each. Gadkari also administered the road safety pledge to all those present on the occasion.

Outlining the initiatives and steps taken to improve vehicle safety and overall road safety, the Minister said his ministry has adopted the 4E principles of Education, Enforcement, Engineering and Emergency care to address the problem of road safety.

For ensuring vehicular safety, the standards of buses have been upgraded, air bags and speed alert device have been made mandatory for all cars, and every two-wheeler will have ABS to avoid skidding. He said, the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2017, passed by Lok Sabha is waiting to be cleared by Rajya Sabha. This bill comprehensively promotes safety on the road. It would also promote the development of an efficient, seamless and integrated multi-mode public transport system.

The Ministry of Road Transport & Highways has launched a scheme for setting up of Driving Training Centre to provide quality training to commercial vehicle drivers, improve road and environment safety and strengthen overall mobility on roads. 789 road accident black spots have been identified on NHs of which 139 black spots are rectified, work on 233 black spots are awarded and in progress.

Ministry had issued guidelines for taking up of Road Safety Audits on National Highways either as part of all new projects. Detailed Road Safety Audits in a length of 610 km have been sanctioned on National Highways in last two years.

Installation of crash barriers at accident prone locations on National Highways in Hilly Terrain has been sanctioned in a length of 183 Km at a cost of Rs 108.25 crore.

Shri Gadkari also released a paper on road safety by Indian Road Safety Campaign. IRSC is a youth led national mission promoting road safety, led by students and alumni of IIT Delhi. It is currently working on creating awareness on road safety, developing technologies, simplifying laws and improving the post-accident emergency care system.

IRSC organizes an annual road safety championship called as the Safer India Challenge in collaboration with the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and various state polices involving the youth to come up with innovations in this area.

The Safer India Challenge’18 was launched on the occasion. In addition to this the Minister also released a short story collection on road safety theme entitled “Have a safe journey”

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