Bengaluru and Goa: Around the world, women predominantly bear the responsibility of childcare, and tend to drop out of work--a phenomenon termed the ‘motherhood penalty’. Globally, mothers of children below the age of five have, at 47.6%, the lowest employment rate compared with 87.9% for fathers and 54.4% for women who had no children, found a June 2018 study of 90 countries by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

This is even more significant in India where the lack of sufficient support systems for child care, including in the case of mandatory creches in formal workplaces, leaves women with the triple burden of care work, household responsibilities, and paid work--limiting their ability to participate productively in the labour market. Add to that the fact that India’s female workforce in India is concentrated in the informal sector, especially in agricultural work, and we have a situation where women--in order to balance the need for income generation with childcare responsibilities– tend to settle for underpaid, or unpaid, flexible work opportunities either closer to or within their homes. This is more pronounced in low- and middle-income countries, where the motherhood penalty can result in a 42% decrease in earnings.

This can be seen by the dip in the labour force participation of women post marriage, especially during peak reproductive age. Women tend to drop out of the workforce with the birth of a child and face numerous challenges re-entering the labour market. Given India’s historically low female labour force participation rate compared to global levels, experts have called for the provision of state-based childcare support as one of the ways to reverse this trend.

Take the case of Karnataka. As we explain in seven charts in this DataViz, rural women in the state, as in the rest of India, have a lower labour force participation rate than men. Even those who are working take up casual work or are self-employed. Further, women are able to spend fewer hours than men in paid work, and earn less than men even in casual work. Finally, women account for over half of the person-days worked under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), government data show. A new scheme that provides child care in rural Karnataka holds promise, we explain.

The childcare burden

In the absence of childcare facilities, women seek support from older family members or children, and their community to assist with childcare while they engage in income generating work. It is also common for mothers to take children below school going age with them to their workplace, where the children are exposed to heat, dust and potential injuries. The absence of good childcare not only has a negative impact on the child’s growth and development, but its absence also hinders the mother’s ability to seek better or higher paying job opportunities.

However, ample evidence from across the globe suggests that reliable, accessible, and good quality childcare can have a positive impact on a mothers’ employment outcomes and a child’s developmental progress. In addition to freeing up the mothers’ time by shifting the burden of childcare outside the household, childcare centres are an effective mechanism to ensure that the nutritional and educational needs of children are met in line with their developmental stage.

For example, a study of a large-scale publicly funded urban childcare programme in Nicaragua for children between the ages of 0-4 years found a positive impact on both maternal work and social-emotional development of children. According to this study, the social return as captured through the increase in income for families participating in the study was greater than the programme cost per child, making the programme cost effective.

Similarly, a study in an informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya found that when provided with subsidies to access early childcare, mothers were 8.5 percentage points more likely to be working than mothers without childcare. The study also found that single mothers were able to access better jobs and increase their income relative to non-single mothers, without having to increase their working hours.

The MGNREGA, a centrally sponsored demand-driven wage employment programme introduced in India in 2005, took this into account and mandated the establishment of childcare facilities at worksites. The Act mandates the provision of safe drinking water and a shed for children, in addition to a creche or childcare facilities at any worksite where more than five children under the age of six years accompany their parents. More than 50% of MGNREGA beneficiaries across the country, as we said, are women.

However, studies show that while MGNREGA has an overall positive impact on women’s economic and social well-being, awareness regarding--and effectiveness of--childcare facilities is limited.

The Koosina Mane (child homes or creches) scheme aims to compensate for this by providing childcare facilities within the gram panchayat. Under the scheme, the state government will set up childcare creches in 4,000 gram panchayats to provide childcare services to women enrolled under the MGNREGA, as well as other working mothers in the vicinity.

In addition to the childcare benefits for women workers, the scheme also promises a better environment for children, with the provision of healthy food and a bridge to joining school when they turn six years old. By moving care work outside the household, the scheme can play an important role in redefining gendered norms of the mother as the primary caregiver.

Other childcare focused schemes in India, like the National Creche Scheme, now subsumed as the Palna Scheme under Mission Shakti, aim to “provide day-care facilities for children (6 months to 6 years) of working mothers and to improve nutrition and health status of children” with a focus on “women of low-income groups who go to work at least 15 days a month, or six months a year.” However, an analysis by The Hindu shows that insufficient budget allocation and significant underutilisation of the allocated budgets have rendered the scheme ineffective.

More rural women stay out of the workforce

The labour force participation for rural women (age 15 and above) in Karnataka--that is, the proportion of women who are working, or are looking for work--stands at 36.3%, which is comparable to the national average of 36.6%. However, rural women’s participation in the labour force is 42 percentage points lower than rural men in Karnataka (78.6%).

Younger women have lower participation

For rural women aged 15 to 29 years in Karnataka, the labour force participation falls further to 19.3%, about half the rate for all women.

This age-group also includes women who are studying at various levels. For instance, at the national level, the percentage of rural women enrolled in educational institutions is higher than that of women solely engaged in domestic duties for the age-group of 15-19 years.

For the subsequent three age-groups (20-24, 25-29, 30-34), the share of women who report not looking for paid work due to domestic duties and other income-generating work is higher relative to the other two groups before beginning to stabilise for age after 35 years, illustrating the ‘motherhood penalty’.

Furthermore, data from the fifth National Family Health Survey suggest that the age-specific fertility rate is highest for age groups 20-24 and 25-29 at 149 and 100 children per 1,000 women, respectively.

More women take up self-employment, casual work

Large numbers of rural women are working either as self-employed (52.1%) or as casual workers (38.9%). In rural Karnataka, the incidence of casual work for women is higher compared to the national average of 24.1%. Much of this employment is in agriculture. This is in stark contrast with urban women, 63.5% of whom report having regular wage work.

Women earn less than men in casual work

The wages for women in casual work are consistently lower than that of rural men in the state, as well as those of women, on average, across the country. The gender wage gap for casual workers in Karnataka varied anywhere between 34% and 50% at different points in the year 2021-22, our analysis shows.

Women spend fewer hours than men on casual and self-employed work

Women in casual employment work up to four hours less than men every week; self-employed women work 15.5 hours less each week than self-employed men.

Over 65% of female workers in rural Karnataka work for anywhere between 25-48 hours a week, while about 60% of the male workers work for 37-60 hours.

On average, women in rural India spent up to 301 minutes per day on domestic work, more than thrice the time spent by men (98 minutes), according to data from the Time Use survey in 2019. The 68th round of the National Sample Survey Organisation survey in 2011-12 had found that up to 60% of women in rural India said they have no choice in taking up care work, since there is 'no other member to carry out the domestic duties'.

Women’s participation in MGNREGA rising

Women’s participation in MGNREGA work has consistently increased in the last few years to slightly over 50% of the total person-days generated under the public works programme, making rural child care schemes such as Koosina Mane imperative.

We welcome feedback. Please write to We reserve the right to edit responses for language and grammar.