Women's Freedom to Work Research Programme
TWCF Number
Project Duration
May 1 / 2023
- November 1 / 2025
Core Funding Area
Individual Freedom and Free Markets
Amount Awarded

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Shruti Rajagopalan
Institution Mercatus Center, Inc.

Working Indian women remain underrepresented in the formal economy — only 18.6% participate in the labor force. Female labor force participation rates are among the lowest in the world; only parts of the Arab world fare worse. Even with economic growth, increase in educational attainment, and falling fertility rates, women are not participating in the formal economy. The Trayas Foundation is working to provide data on Indian women in the workforce and the subsequent effect on the Indian economy. 

A recent analysis of labor laws in India has identified many barriers to participation in the workforce, especially for women. Using 48 Acts, 169 Rules, and 20 Notifications/Orders, the Trayas Foundation constructed an index comparing 23 states on how much economic freedom they give women. The index identifies over 100 legal provisions across India that prevent women from choosing to work. Trayas hypothesizes that such barriers adversely affect the wellbeing of women and families, and where removed they have positive effects. Many of these barriers have to do with labor laws that prohibit women from working in certain industries, or prohibit the number of hours they can work. In April 2022, the central government in India did away with or repealed many of these laws but the project directors anticipate that the individual states will determine how they will interpret and enforce these laws.

With this project, directed by Shruti Rajagopalan of the Mercatus Center, the researchers at the Trayas Foundation see an opportunity to engage in a natural, comparative experiment to determine the effect of women in the labor force across a number of Indian states and the subsequent effect on the economy and entrepreneurship opportunities for women. The study will collect data on outcomes for women, recreate the discrimination index over time, and use statistical analysis to understand the relationship between discrimination and labor regulations.

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