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Data: Only About Half the Males in Rural Areas are Now Employed in Primary Sector Compared to More Than 75% Twenty-Five Years Ago


RBI’s Handbook of Statistics on Indian Economy provided compiled data on employment situation from various survey reports MoSPI such as the NSS reports, PLFS, of the last 25 years. The per 1000 distribution of usually employed by broad groups of industry for various rounds of surveys indicates that only about half the males in rural areas are now employed in the primary sector compared to more than 75% in 1998.

Employment is a central issue that spans across the entire population. The employment scenario of a country reflects a complex interplay of factors such as the youth demographic, labour market regulations, migration patterns, education and skill levels, domestic and foreign investment, political situation, and so on. The development outcomes of a country are also strongly influenced by these factors. In short, the employment scenario provides a comprehensive understanding of a nation’s economic vitality, social well-being, and the factors that contribute to its overall stability and growth. 

The creation of jobs and employment in India have been topics of discussion for many decades and have been prominent issues in public discourse at various points in the country’s history. In this story, we look at the trends in employment across the three broad sectors of India’s economic activities, viz., primary sector, secondary sector, and tertiary sector in the last 25 years. 

The data for this story, taken from the recently released RBI’s Handbook of Statistics on Indian Economy, has been collated from various survey reports of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI) such as National Sample Survey Reports (NSS) and the Periodic Labour Force Survey Report (PLFS). The per 1000 distribution of usually employed by broad groups of industry for various rounds of surveys in the last 25 years has been considered. It should be noted that the surveys were conducted in different periods and is not consistent. Data is not uniformly available for all years. ‘All’ Status of employment, which includes Principal and Subsidiary Status has been taken.

‘Usually employed persons’ are those who are engaged in some form of regular employment for most of the reference period covered by the surveys. This means that these individuals have a job or occupation that they are regularly involved in, and it is their primary source of income during that period. The usually employed therefore is an indicator of the persons who have a stable attachment to some economic activity though they may not be pursuing the same at any given time.

Share of Males involved in agriculture sector dropped from three-fourths to half

In the primary sector which consists of agriculture and allied activities, employment has dropped over the years, even though it has historically employed a significant portion of the Indian population. The sector’s share in the GDP has also been declining over the years. 

More females have always had their primary source of income from this sector as compared to males throughout the given period, irrespective of area. In rural areas, from 757 out of 100 males employed in this sector in 1998, the number has dropped to 510 as per the latest survey in 2021-22. In the case of females, the number declined from 885 to 759 during the same period. Likewise, in urban areas, the number of males dropped from 92 in 1998 to 54 in 2021-22 and the number of females dropped from 221 to 111. 

Though there is an overall decline in the figures, a closer observation reveals that there was a marginal increase compared to previous years, in the share of usually employed persons in the sector in rural areas in 2003, 2007-08, and 2019-20. In urban areas, the trend was similar, but the increase was recorded in 2002, 2007-08 (females), and 2009-10 (males). Since 2019-20, the number of urban males and females working in the sector has been on the rise. The periods when the number of people working in the sector increased roughly coincide with some of the major economic events like the SARS outbreak & slow growth after the recession, the Global Financial Crisis (2007 to 2009), and the COVID-19 pandemic (2020 to 2022).

Share of Females has declined in the secondary sector

The secondary sector which includes manufacturing industries, mining & quarrying, construction, and utilities like water, electricity, etc. employs skilled professionals in industries like automotive and electronics to manual laborers involved in construction and production. While most of the Indian workforce in rural areas is still employed in the agricultural sector, many from urban areas are employed in the manufacturing sector. However, there has not been a significant change in the per 1000 number of people employed in the sector in urban areas. In rural areas, the number has increased gradually over the years. Between 1998 and 2021-22, the per 1000 male employees in the sector increased from 102 to 254 whereas female employees increased from 66 to 134. A decline in the employees in the sector, mainly females, is evident in 2000-2001, 2006, 2007 and in 2019-20. Between 2011-12 and 2017-18 for which data is not available for each year, a decline in female employees is seen in rural and urban regions. 

Share of urban women in tertiary sector is more than that of their male counterparts

The tertiary sector includes service-based industries like trade, hotel & restaurant, transport, storage, communication, and other services. The sector dominates India’s economy by contributing more than 50% of the GDP. While COVID-19 pandemic had an adverse impact on most sectors of the economy, the services sector was the worst affected.

In rural areas, the per 1000 distribution of usually employed in the Tertiary Sector has increased significantly between 1998 and 2021-22- from 141 to 237 in the case of males and from 49 to 108 in the case of females. However, the number of employees in the sector from rural areas was the highest in 2018-19 before falling in the subsequent year. As of 2021-22, the number of males in rural areas employed in the sector crossed the pre-pandemic levels, whereas the number of females has dropped even further. That is, more male employees in rural areas returned to the sector following the pandemic while the case was not the same for females. 

However, in urban areas, the number of males employed in the sector has revolved around 600 while the number of females usually employed in the sector grew from 499 to 601 in the 25 years. In fact, the ratio of females in the sector crossed that of their male counterparts in 2017-18. 

According to the data, more people in rural areas, irrespective of gender, are now shifting towards secondary and tertiary sectors. In urban areas, there has been a slight increase in the number of people usually employed in the primary sector in the last 3 years following the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of the economic crisis, it was seen that more people went back to the primary sector for income. One recent example of this could be the pandemic-induced large-scale reverse migration to the rural parts of the country from cities & towns. 


About Author

A bachelor’s degree in mathematics and master’s in social science, she is driven by ardent desire to work with this unique combination to create her own path instead of following the herd. Having served a stint as the college union chairperson, she is a strategist who is also passionate about nature conservation, art and loves solving Sudoku.

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