Knowledge Center

Women in the Labour Force: India


India Is the Second Most Populous Country in the World1

1,266,883,598 people currently live in India.2

Women comprise 48.5% of the population.3

This gender population gap4 starts at birth. For every 100 boys born nationally, 89 girls are born.5

  • The gender gap fluctuates across India. In the state of Daman & Diu, women represent just 38.2% of the population, while in Kerala they are 52.0% of the population.6

  • In 2011, there were 35,685,539 fewer women than men across India.7

Today More Than One-Third of Indians Live in Cities8

Currently, 377,106,125 (more than 30%) members of the Indian population live in urban centers.9

  • More than 30% of all Indian women live in cities.10

  • Only 7.1% of people from Scheduled Castes live in cities.11

The Indian Youth Population Is the Largest in the World12

The median age in India is 27.6 years (compared to 37.9 years in the United States).13

  •  29% of India's population is younger than 15.14
  • 6% of India’s population is older than 65.15 


India’s Complex Culture is Illustrated in its Diverse Religions and Languages16
  • The Caste System (Jati) goes back thousands of years and continues to influence access to some jobs.17
  • The constitution has outlawed caste discrimination for employment and access to education, but not the caste system itself.18


Fewer Than Half of Indians in their 20s Have Completed Secondary Education19

60.6% of women and 81.3% of men over age 15 are literate.20

60.4% of members of Scheduled Castes age 15 and older are literate.21

  • 71.6% of men and 48.6% of women from Scheduled Castes were literate in 2011.22

Literacy rates vary between urban and rural populations.

  • In 2011, 80% of urban women were literate compared to 59% of rural women.23

Women Are Closing the Higher Education Gap

46.8% of all enrolled undergraduate students in India are women.24 

40.7% of all enrolled PhD students are women.25


Labour Force

More Women Work in Rural India Than in Cities 

Overall, the labour force participation rate for women is falling: from 37% in 2004-05 to 28% in 2016.26

  • In 2015-2016, women comprised 26.7% of all rural workers, down from 31.8% in 1972-73.27

  • In 2015-2016, women comprised 16.2% of all urban workers, a small increase from 13.4% in 1972-73.28

  •  13.4% of Indian working women have a regular salaried job (2013) compared to  21.2% (2011-2012) of working men (aged 15–59).29  


The Gender Pay Wage Gap is Shrinking in India30

Women earn 57% of what their male colleagues earn for performing the same work.31

  • The more educated a woman is, the wider the gender pay gap.32
  • The gender pay gap increases as women advance in their careers.33
India's Labour Force Is Growing

India will add 110 million people to its labour force in the next 10 years, including youth and women entering the workforce.34

  • Over the next 40 years, India is projected to add 424 million working-age adults.35

If India can increase women's labour force participation by 10 percentage points (68 million more women) by 2025, India could increase its GDP 16%.36

The Pipeline for Women Starts Small and Continues to Shrink37


Women hold only 7.7% of board seats and just 2.7% of board chairs.38

  • The industries with the highest percentage of women on boards are technology, media, and telecommunications.39

Out of 323 total executive directorship positions (generally considered to be prerequisite to becoming CEO) on the Bombay Stock Exchange 100, just eight (2.5%) are held by women.40

  • 54% of companies on the Bombay Stock Exchange 100 have no women board directors.41


Additional Resources

Aarti Shyamsunder, Alixandra Pollack, Dnika Travis, India Inc: From Intention to Impact (Catalyst, 2015).

Aarti Shyamsunder and Nancy Carter, High Potentials Under High Pressure in India’s Technology Sector  (Catalyst, 2014).

Laura Sabattini, Expanding Work-Life Perspectives: Talent Management in India (Catalyst, 2012).

Catalyst, First Step: India Overview (2013).

Deepali Bagati and Nancy Carter, Leadership Gap in India Inc.: Myths and Realities (Catalyst, 2010).

World Economic Forum, "The Global Gender Gap Report, 2014" (2014).

The World Bank, "India Data" (2015).

Care, Why Business Should Care, Women's Empowerment Principals



How to cite this product: Catalyst. Quick Take: Women in the Labour Force in India. New York: Catalyst, June 27, 2017.