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Married women's labor supply and economic development: Evidence from Sri Lankan household data

Prathi Seneviratne ()

Review of Development Economics, 2019, vol. 23, issue 2, 975-999

Abstract: Women's labor supply in Sri Lanka has increased steadily since the early 1990s following economic reforms, but remains well below the level predicted by national income, a feature shared by a number of Asian and Latin American countries that have undergone similar reforms and economic growth. To understand the microeconomic determinants of women's work in Sri Lanka's growing economy, this paper estimates a binary‐choice model of married women's labor supply using household survey data spanning a 23‐year period. Decomposition and cohort analysis reveal that women have been drawn into the workforce through falling fertility rates, rising tertiary education, and declining income effects among younger generations, but other factors have undermined this positive trend. Educational attainment reduces married women's labor supply except at the tertiary level, consistent with social stigmas associated with married women in non‐white‐collar employment. The strict sectoral segregation of married women by education level supports this hypothesis. In addition, growth has been concentrated in low‐skilled sectors with self‐employment more prevalent, reducing employment prospects of educated women and prompting their labor force withdrawal. This suggests it is the structure of economic development, rather than speed, that matters for women's labor force activity.

Date: 2019
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