Structures of constraint and women’s paid work in Pakistan

Sana Khalil1

1Ph.D. Economics, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Faculty of Habib University, Karachi, Pakistan

Article History

Received: 18 March 2021       Accepted: 2 June 2021     Available Online: 4 June 2021

Keywords: gender inequality, labor force participation, structures of constraint

JEL classification: J2, J4, J7

Citation: Khalil, S. (2021). Structures of constraint and women’s paid work in Pakistan, Review of Socio-Economic Perspectives, Vol 6(2), 11-30.


This paper examines the role of different structures of constraint in restricting women’s access to paid work in Pakistan. Using data from the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics and Pakistan Demographic Health Surveys, it offers a descriptive analysis of men and women’s labor market outcomes in Pakistan, evincing gender inequalities. Although female labor force participation rates in Pakistan have risen over 1990-2018, much of this increase might have come from informal employment in rural areas, within the category of self-employment and family work. Female employment is largely segregated to the agricultural sector (66%), followed by the manufacturing sector (16%). From 2013 to 2018, employment in the manufacturing sector grew faster for women than for men. However, much of this increase came from a sharp growth in the female share in the category of self-employment and contributing family work (by 39 percentage points); men’s share in that category declined slightly (by 3 percentage points). Female shares in wage and salaried employment declined both in agricultural (15 percentage points) and manufacturing (27 percentage points) sectors while the corresponding male shares rose (albeit marginally). This essay argues that various structures of constraint on the supply-side such as early childbearing patterns, patriarchal rules regarding seclusion and marriage, and a larger burden of unpaid care-work under the joint-family system restrict women’s participation in paid work. Similarly, on the demand-side, pervasive systematic discrimination, wherein job ads explicitly demand male candidates, discourages women’s preferences for and access to paid work.

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Article Type: Original Paper


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