Our story begins in a rural Indian village. A government funded recruiter has just convinced a father that his daughters should work in a Bangalore garment factory. Free to leave after six months, the girls would earn 7,187 rupees ($108) a month after their training. Although his neighbors disapproved, the man was said to have needed the money for his daughters’ dowries.
Supposedly, a husband’s family will treat his bride better if her dowry is large. Still though, living in his household, the young woman learns “submission” by washing the feet of her husband’s parents each morning before her breakfast. Prohibited from using the names of her in-laws, she is not supposed to feel “familiarity.”
Working in Bangalore
Bangalore is a different world. To get there the sisters board a train for the first time.
Thirty-three hours, the trip from Ishwarpur to Bangalore is 900 miles:
In Bangalore, the girls live in a hostel. Off on Sundays, they can get an “out-pass” every other week. Otherwise they have to remain at the hostel or in the factory. During training they learn to sew in straight lines. But one girl who quickly became expert at attaching three tags to a Marks & Spencer miniskirt was soon doing it 100 times an hour for eight hours. Lunch lasts for 30 minutes.
When they can visit the shops, the girls spend. The two sisters bought teeny 22-carat earrings. One used 4,000 rupees–more than half her monthly pay–for a Lava A59 smartphone. Otherwise, they send their money home.
India’s Female Work Force
There are close to 255 million women who could be in India’s labor force but they are not. Called the female labor force participation (FLFP) rate, the ratio comparing the number of women who could be in the labor force to those who are not is low for India.
Then making the problem even worse, between 2004 and 2014 India’s FLFP rate dropped when its GDP steadily increased:
Looking beyond India, their FLFP rate is among the world’s lowest:
Our Bottom Line: Human Capital
As economists, we can display what underutilizing female human capital does to output. Statistically, the NY Times suggests India’s shortfall could be as much as 27%. On a graph, we can show that shortfall with a dot to the left of a production possibilities frontier. The curve shows the maximum that an economy can produce of two items while the dot represents actual production.
The young brides in rural India who remain at home are one reason for the position of that black dot.
My sources and more: For more of the facts, this NY Times in-depth look at two women in an Indian factory was excellent. Complementing the factory story, these articles, from the NY Times, from Bloomberg and the IMF added insight.