Economic Survey Volume 1 Chapter 7 (Latest)







The chapter assesses the status of gender equality in India. It identifies the intrinsic and instrumental value in raising the role and status of women in society. It makes critical observations on convergence effect in India, comparison with other countries, issues of son preference, etc. It also highlights the steps taken by the government to address the challenge of gender inequality in India.



Gender equality is an inherently multidimensional issue. Assessments are made on three specific dimensions of gender:

  • Agency– relate to women’s ability to make decisions on reproduction, spending on themselves, spending on their households, and their own mobility and health.
  • Attitudes– relate to attitudes about violence against women/wives, and the ideal number of daughters preferred relative to the ideal number of sons.
  • Outcomes– relate to son preference (measured by sex ratio of last child), female employment, education levels, age at marriage, age at first childbirth, and physical or sexual violence experienced by women.


India’s performance and need to take stock of progress made towards gender equality:

  • There is growing evidence that there can also be significant gains in economic growth if women acquire-
  • Greater personal agency
  • Assume political power
  • Attain public status
  • Participate equally in the labor force


As per IMF research, women’s participation in the workforce to the level of men can boost Indian economy by 27%

  • There is a need to correct a methodological problem (of conflating “chronological time” and “developmental time”) afflicting assessments relating to gender and other social issues. Policy making should be informed by both perspectives.
  • Urgency of action should spring from assessments in chronological time but that must be leavened by the understanding that comes from assessments in developmental time.





  • On 14 out of 17 variables, average levels in India have improved over time.
  • On 7, improvement is such that the most recent India’s performance is better than or at par with that of other countries, accounting for the level of development.


Categories 2005-06 2015-16
Decisions about own health 62.3% 74.5%
Not experiencing physical or emotional violence 63% 71%
Median age at first child birth 19.3 years 20.6 years
  • India has some distance to traverse on several dimensions (10 out of 17) to be on par with other countries in developmental time.

Some dimensions that India needs to work on:

  1. Women using methods of reversible contraception– it is 51.6% lower than it should be. Thus, women have little control over when they start having children, but only seem to have control over when they stop having children.

It could affect other milestones like women may not get the same access to employment that men do. This certainly puts a question on how much true agency women have.

  1. Women in workforce– has declined over time (36% in 2005-06 to 24% in 2015-16) because:

Supply side

Demand side

§  Increased incomes of men allows them to withdraw

§  Higher education levels allow them to pursue leisure

§  Farm mechanization

§  Insufficient availability of jobs women prefer

§  Security concerns and social norms



  • Convergence effect? – Whether gender related indicators improve with wealth both in India as well as other countries.

In 15 out of 17 cases, gender indicators are more responsive to wealth in India than they are in the typical country which suggests that even if India is lagging in development time, it can expect to catch up with other countries as household wealth increases.

2 cases where such a convergence effect is not visible:

  • Women’s employment
  • Sex of last child




Variation in performance of Indian states relative to each other and relative to their level of development.

  • All states (except Delhi) are improving over time.
  • Most North-Eastern states (with the exception of Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh) and Goa are the best performers at all points of time.
  • Lagging performers are Bihar, Rajasthan, MP, UP, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh.

There is also a convergence effect in that the poorer performers in the earlier period improve their score over time. Yet Indian states have some distance to traverse to reach the theoretical frontier.



  • The biologically determined natural SRB is 1.05 males for every female.


Country SRB in 1970 SRB in 2014 Reasons
China 1070 1156 –        One child policy  – Son preference
India 1060 1108 –        Son preference   – Sex-selective abortion


  • A negative correlation has been observed between income and sex ratio. In Punjab and Haryana, sex ratio is approaching 1200 males per 1000 females even though they are among the richest states.
  • “Missing women”– It is the number of women who go missing across age groups every year either due to sex selective abortion, disease, neglect, or inadequate nutrition. There are around 100 million missing women around the world, 40 million of which are in India alone.



Son meta preference – when parents may choose to keep having children until they get the desired number of sons.

  • Even though it does not lead to sex-selective abortion, it may be detrimental to female children as it may lead to fewer resources devoted to them.
  • It alone will not skew the sex ratio, however, it will led to skewed sex ratios but in different directions i.e. Skewed in favor of
  • males if it is the last child,
  • females if it is not
  • a preference for sons will manifest itself in the SRLC being skewed in the favor of males
  • An ideal SRLC is 1.05:1 (where parents’ decision of having child is uncorrelated with previous birth being a son or daughter)

  • In India, SRLC for first borns is 1.82 (heavily skewed in favor of boys) compared with the ideal sex ratio of 1.05. It drops to 1.55 for the second child for families that have exactly two children. This suggests parents are employing “stopping rules” – having a children till a son is born and stopping thereafter.
  • Striking contrast in meta preference for sons within India between states- strong in Punjab and Haryana and weak in North-Eastern states.
  • It gives rise to “unwanted girls” – girls whose parents wanted a boy, but instead had a girl. It is estimated at about 21 million for India.




The challenge of gender inequality is historical and long standing, the state and all the stakeholders have an important role to play in increasing opportunities available for women in education and employment.


Various steps have been taken already-

  • Schemes like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao and Sukanya Samridhi Yojana have been launched.
  • 26 weeks long maternity leave in both public and private organizations.
  • Crèche facility in every organization having more than 50 employees.


Along with these steps, collective self-reflection by Indian society is necessary.