The Demographic Transition and Women’s Economic Participation in Tamil Nadu, India: A Historical Case Study

Rohini Prabha Pande, Sophie Namy & Anju Malhotra

This study analyzes the co-evolution of economic, social, governmental, and gender systems; the demographic transition; and women’s extra-domestic productive opportunities in Tamil Nadu, India. It examines how gender norms for women’s extra-domestic productive and domestic reproductive (motherhood) roles interacted with other upheavals in demography, society, and economy, and how these interweaving trends were reflected in women’s actual participation – and gender gaps – in higher education and employment. The study finds that higher education and employment for women at peak productive and reproductive ages rose as fertility declined, likely aided by Tamil Nadu’s history of social activism and investment in educational and economic infrastructure. However, motherhood remained a primary responsibility even after fertility declined, moving from a focus on childbearing to a focus on childrearing. Thus, traditional gender norms continued to prioritize women’s investment of time, income, and effort in their children over extra-domestic productive opportunities.

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