An Indian She-cession: Disproportionate Job and Earnings Loss for Young Women in the Labour Market

The COVID-19 pandemic has had severe consequences for the Indian labour market. However, its effects have been experienced differently across ages and genders. Using emerging longitudinal data, we examined who were hit the hardest? We found that young people (versus older adults) and women (versus men) experienced the highest losses in jobs and earnings. Young women, disadvantaged both on account of their age and their gender, suffered the most as compared to all other categories of workers analysed (young men, older men, and older women). These findings have important implications. India is at a demographic juncture, which means it is experiencing a “youth bulge” and has one of the youngest populations in the world. Further, the female labour force participation in India was low and declining even before the pandemic. Enabling young women to engage with the labour market is key to both youth and gender empowerment, and policy needs to urgently focus on pathways that provide meaningful opportunities for post-pandemic recovery.


The pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns have ravaged the Indian labour market. But the consequences of the disease and the associated economic disruption have been felt differently by people across the labour market. Who has been the hardest hit in India? Using emerging longitudinal data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), we analyse the effects of the lockdowns for different categories of workers across age and gender and at their intersections. Our study sample includes those who were in the labour force between September and December 2019, that is, prior to the lockdown, and those with whom interviews were repeated during the coronavirous 2019 (COVID-19) period—between September and December 2020 and September and December 2021. The total sample includes 1,06,855 individuals. The choice of months is driven by the slots of months (waves) in which data were collected.

1. Job Loss

1.1 Younger People Harder Hit than Older People in Terms of Job Losses

Young people suffered the greatest job losses. While about 7 percent of older people (25+ years) faced “no recovery,” the corresponding number for younger people (15–25 years) was more than four times at 29 percent. “No recovery” refers to the situation where employed individuals in the last four months of 2019 experienced job loss during the lockdown year between September and December 2020 and continued being out of a job after the lockdown in September–December 2021. In terms of delayed job loss too (that is, the situation where individuals were employed before the lockdown and continued to be in employment during the lockdown but lost their job after the lockdown), younger people fared worse—about 3 percent of older adults experienced delayed job loss, half of the corresponding figure for younger people, at nearly 6 percent.

Younger people facing more significant job losses was not only an urban phenomenon, but they lost more jobs across rural and urban sectors. In rural India, about 27 percent of young men and 58 percent of young women faced no recovery, whereas only about 3 percent of old men and about 33 percent of old women faced no recovery. In urban India, nearly 29 percent of young men and 64 percent of young women met no recovery but only about 4 percent of old men and about 52 percent of old women faced no recovery.  

Young people being harder hit may be because of multiple reasonsyoung people in India, as globally, could have been employed in the worst affected sectors. Globally, prior to the pandemic, nearly half the young people employed were working in directly impacted sectors, such as retail, services, and tourism (ILO 2020b). Younger people’s informality rate globally is over 75 percent, much higher than for older adults, which is at 59 percent (ILO 2020a). Young people just beginning to work tend to have scanty work experience, narrower social networks, and limited access to financial capital (Barford, Coutts, and Sahai 2021), all of which can make them more vulnerable to be dismissed first and make it harder for them to get a job in the first place

1.2 Women Harder Hit Than Men in Terms of Job Loss

Women experienced more significant job losses than men. Figure 1 shows (in red) that while nearly 40 percent of women experienced no recovery, only about 7 percent of men were unable to recover. The figures for delayed job loss were also greater for women, 8.5 percent as compared to 3 percent of men. Figure 1, could also be interpreted to show that women have experienced a higher recovery than men (8.5 versus 3.2 percent). However, since many more women lost jobs than men, women still experienced much higher job losses overall despite the apparent higher recovery for women. 

Women have disproportionately been in sectors that were worst affected, such as hospitality, retail, and food servicesthis could have contributed to women experiencing greater job losses. Alongside the pandemic-related disruption to the labour market, women also shouldered increased care responsibilities and suffered from a “shadow pandemic” of domestic violence that could also relate to their higher job loss. With fewer jobs available, men displaced women in employment during the pandemic.

Figure 1: Women harder hit by job losses as compared to men








Source: CMIE Consumer Pyramid Household Survey, SeptemberOctober 2019, SeptemberOctober 2020, and SeptemberOctober 2021.

1.3 Young women hit hardest in terms of job loss

Young women, therefore, disadvantaged both on account of their age and gender, were the hardest hit in terms of job loss. In terms of age, while nearly 61 percent of younger women faced no recovery, the figure dropped to about 38 percent for older women. In terms of gender, the corresponding figure for young men was 28 percent. At the opposite end, merely about 4 percent of old men experienced no recovery. 

Young women were the hardest hit across rural and urban sectors, with job loss in the urban sector being worse than in the rural sector. The presence of the agricultural sector, as a fallback option, likely provided women with alternate employment opportunities that were absent for urban women.

Young women experienced a higher no recovery than young men across every industry as shown in table 1. Indeed, in what were standard “fallback” industries for employment for women such as construction and agriculture, women’s recovery was particularly muted compared to that of men when lockdown restrictions began to ease. Further, traditional employers of women such as health and education were among the sectors where they had the least likelihood of recovering lost employment.

Table 1: Zooming into Young Women Versus Young Men, Young Women Hit Harder by Job Losses across every Industry

















Source: CMIE Consumer Pyramid Household Survey, SeptemberOctober 2019, SeptemberOctober 2020, and SeptemberOctober 2021.

2. Income loss

Younger people faced greater income losses than older adults. The incomes of young people declined by nearly 39 percent, while those aged above 25 years experienced an income loss of about 12 per cent on average. While younger people recovered more than the older people, in the overall analysis younger people’s income still declined by 33 percent, while older adults faced an income decline of one-third of it, at around 11 percent.

Women faced higher earning losses than men. The total impact on earnings, after accounting for recovery, for women was nearly 48 percent as opposed to about 10 percent for men. While people across all ages and gender experienced earning losses, Figure 2 shows that young women’s average earnings declined the mostit declined from INR 6,987 in 2019 to INR 2,743 in 2021. The corresponding figures for young men were INR 10,159 in 2019, which declined to INR 6,848 in 2021.

Figure 2: The overall fall in average monthly earnings (INR) was the highest for young women







Source: CMIE Consumer Pyramid Household Survey, SeptemberOctober 2019, SeptemberOctober 2020, and SeptemberOctober 2021.

In addition to young women facing the sharpest drop in average incomes, they overall also experienced the least recovery as can be seen in Table 2. Young women’s incomes in 2021 were lower by 60 percent compared to their earnings in 2019; contrasting with young men, whose incomes were about 33 percent lower in 2021 as compared to 2019. Young men as compared to young women both faced a smaller shock as well as experienced a better recovery in their average earnings.

Further, for all women, unlike men, there was no recovery in income following the initial drop after 2019. Their real incomes dropped consistently after 2019 till 2021. In contrast, male workers witnessed some recovery in their income levels post 2020, irrespective of their age band.

Table 2: Young Women’s Incomes in 2021 was overall the most Adversely Affected 


Total change in income


Change in income during impact period


Change in income during recovery


















Source: CMIE Consumer Pyramid Household Survey, SeptemberOctober 2019, SeptemberOctober 2020, and SeptemberOctober 2021.

3. Who Are The Young Women Who Experienced No Recovery?

Young women who have experienced no recovery are from across industries, with sectors that employed the highest number of women before the pandemic corresponding to the sectors that have seen the weakest recovery in women’s employment (Table 3). The notable exception is domestic workers, which was amongst the highest employers of young women in 2019 but is not visible in the list of occupations that had the least recovery for women. This is likely indicative of both that it is an essential service in the Indian economy and that men are unlikely to move into the occupation and replace women. Another exception is industrial and machine workers. While further research is needed to understand why this may be, industrial and machine women workers may have been able to partially recover as this occupation tends to employ skilled women workers who are not easily replaceable. 


Table 3: The 10 sectors in 2021 that saw the highest number of young women experience no recovery largely corresponded to the sectors that employed most women in 2019.  

Occupations that employed the highest share of women in 2019

Occupations that showed the least recovery  in 2021

Agri Labourers


Agri Labourers






Personal Care Services


Personal Care Services




Small businesses






Other Prof Services


Other Professional  Services


Industrial and Machine Workers


Other Tech Services


Small Businesses


Finance Profession


Construction Workers


Construction Workers


Domestic Workers




Other Tech Services



Finance Profession



Source: CMIE Consumer Pyramid Household Survey, SeptemberOctober 2019, SeptemberOctober 2020, and SeptemberOctober 2021.

4. Conclusions 

Globally, the successive waves of COVID-19 and the lockdown measures have been damaging to the labour market, especially for women. Examining the data for India, our analysis shows that young women have been the hardest hit across sectors and industries; they have lost more jobs and tendo experience higher losses in earnings than young men, old women, and old men. 

Even though the labour market damage faced by women is a global phenomenon, it is especially critical for India. According to several estimates, the female labour force participation in India was low and falling before the pandemicit was 37% in 2005, which dropped to 29% in 2011, which further fell to about 21% in 2019 (Sahai 2020; ILO 2013; Chaudhary et al. 2014; Kapsos et al. 2014; World Bank 2020). With women being hardest hit by job losses, this situation is becoming even more serious. On the contrary, if the gap between men and women’s participation could be closed, it is estimated that India’s gross domestic product (GDP) could grow by about 33 percent or USD 6 trillion (in constant USD dollars) by 2050 (Mazumdar and Chaudhary 2022)

Young people are harder hit in terms of job and income losses points to another concerning situation. India is at a demographic juncture where it is experiencing a “youth bulge” and has one of the youngest populations in the world (UNFPA 2016). Whether young people are in or out of the labour market will determine whether India experiences a demographic dividend or grapples with a demographic burden of young people who are unable to find meaningful work.

Young women, at the intersection of being young and being a woman, are doubly disadvantaged and have experienced the most severe job and income losses since the start of the pandemic. If young women’s labour market outcomes could be addressed then the issue of alarmingly low female labour force participation and a youth employment crisis could be impacted. 

If policy does not urgently find solutions to the deteriorating crisis around young people and their employment, especially for young women, India could well face a demographic crisis while losing trillions in potential GDP. The University of Cambridge along with partners including Azim Premji University in India are developing a Commission on Young People and Work[1] to understand and address this critical challenge. 





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