ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Middle-class Women’s Labour Migration in Post-liberalised Cities in India

Despite the growing visibility of middle-class women in diverse service sector jobs in Indian cities post 1991, scant research has been directed to study the linkage between their migration dynamics and post-liberalisation changes in the country. This article investigates the patterns and trends of urban migration of middle-class women through the period of pre- and post-liberalisation (1983 to 2007–08); and the socio-economic correlates of their contemporary migration using the data from the National Sample Surveys. Contrary to the dominant stereotypes around women’s “unproductive” migration, the middle-class women’s employment- and education-linked migration turns out to surpass their marriage and family associated movements. The multivariable regression analysis shows that labour migration of educated middle-class women becomes more probable for single, Scheduled Tribe women, aged 21–59 years, having a certificate/diploma, and work experience as a regular/salaried employee at the origin, and coming from rural areas of another state.

Indian women’s migration mostly bears an image of being social, non-economic and unskilled. Poor women migrating long distances as agricultural labourers (Sundari 2005), wage earners (Rao and Rana 1997; Mukherjee 2001), domestic maids (Neetha 2004; Jha 2005; Kaur 2006) and nurses (Nair 2011) have been much cited in the literature. Middle-class women, who might not have financial issues to leave their home and might migrate to cities for better education/career prospects, hardly feature in Indian migration literature. Following the economic reforms in 1991 and service sector boom in India, the presence of middle-class women in medium to high skill jobs in Indian megacities has been documented (Basi 2009). However, very little research has focused on how their migration has responded to these post-liberalisation economic changes. This article is an attempt to fill this glaring gap in the migration literature.

Following Giddens’ structuration theoretical framework,1 women’s contemporary migration is amidst the major structural changes in economic, technological, social and cultural institutions in the country in the last two decades. These are broadly identified as economic liberalisation and globalisation. There is a proliferation of technical as well as “soft skill” jobs in modern service sectors, such as information technology (IT), IT enabled services (ITeS), business process outsourcing (BPOs), hotel, airlines, media, modelling, advertising, etc. At the same time there is privatisation and expansion of traditional service sectors and revolutions in IT. The middle-class society is witnessing changes in cultural institutions of education and employment of women, more than ever.

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