Entry versus success in the labor force: Young women's employment in Sri Lanka

Anju Malhotra, Deborah S. Degraff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this paper, we contribute to the understanding of women's labor force behavior in developing societies through a household-level analysis of young, single women in Sri Lanka. We argue that in the context of saturated and imperfect labor markets of Asian societies such as Sri Lanka, it is important to: (a) differentiate between labor force participation and employment, (b) consider familial and cultural factors in addition to the standard determinants of labor supply and demand, and (c) examine the labor force activity of the current generation of single women. In Sri Lanka, where unemployment among young women is widespread, our results strongly support the strategy of differentiating between labor force participation and employment. That the determinants of these components of the employment process function in different ways is best illustrated by our findings regarding the effects of education: higher education levels lead to greater labor force participation, but highly educated women are also more likely to be unemployed than to be employed. In addition, our findings show that the labor market behavior of young women is shaped by familial expectations and resources in terms of the protected role of young daughters in the household, cultural differences in the acceptability of young women working across ethnic groups, the necessity for women to work across social classes, and class-based advantages in access to information and channels that facilitate job acquisition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)379-394
Number of pages16
JournalWorld Development
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Asia
  • Households
  • Labor force
  • Sri Lanka
  • Unemployment
  • Women

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics


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