What the numbers say—how men and women spend their day differently; and how much bijli, sadak, paani can improve productivity

Here’s a question that has been of interest to me: in a country of 1.4 billion people, if only approximately 400 million are in the workforce, what is it that the remaining billion people do?


We now have some answers.

Time Use Survey 2019, compiled and released by the Ministry of Statistics and Planning Implementation (MOSPI) reveals interesting data about the pattern of time use by Indians.

This is how the day of an “average” Indian goes. (Yes, there is no average Indian person – this is the average of the times spent across men and women in rural and urban India.)

Out of the 24 hours in a day, almost exactly half is spent in “self-care and maintenance” – this leaves only 12 hours, which is typically used for these five activities:

  1. employment and related activities (2.7 hours),
  2. unpaid domestic services for household members (2.2 hours),
  3. culture, leisure, mass-media and sports practices (2.4 hours),
  4. socializing and communication, community participation, religious practice (2.2 hours), and
  5. learning (1.6 hours).

Men and women practically spend broadly similar amounts of time in a day in the last three activities; there is not material difference at a national level—men spend slightly more time learning.

There is big difference, though, in the top two categories—employment and unpaid domestic services.

Men and women

The average of 2.7 hours spent in employment comes from the following break up: 4.4 hours for men and 1.0 hours for women. It’s the opposite for unpaid domestic services for household members: the 2.2 hours split into 0.4 hours for men and 4.1 hours for women.

Clearly, the difference between the life of a typical man and a woman in India rests on whether they are busy at home or outside and whether they are being paid or not.

This split gets more interesting if you look at it geography-wise.

Rural and urban

In urban India, men work for 5.1 hours versus their rural brethren who put in an hour less. A large part of this extra time that urban men can put into their employment comes from the time saved in ‘production of goods for own final use’ which includes things like food, construction, clothes for oneself and also travelling with goods. The ‘outsourcing’ possible in urban India lead to new and different types of jobs while freeing up time for people to focus on their core activities.

This ability to outsource helps urban women too, who use this extra time to spend on culture, leisure, mass-media and sports practices—not necessarily on employment.

India and the USA

Four big differences stand out in the national distribution of the two countries.

  1. The average American works 3.6 hours compared to 2.7 hours for Indians and the entire difference is explained by women working.
  2. Indians spend an hour more on learning than Americans – possibly reflecting the higher proportion of the population in India between six and the age of completing education.
  3. Indians spend a couple of hours more on ‘socializing and communication, community participation and religious practice’ while Americans use this time for ‘culture, leisure, mass-media and sports practices’ – possibly reflecting the more social nature of the Indian set-up compared to the more individualistic social set-up for Americans.
  4. On an average, Indians spend an hour more on self-care and maintenance than Americans – this may have more to do with the requirement of doing so rather than the ease of it.

Life in a developing country is and feels very different from a developed country; the differences also reflect the social choices a country makes.

Moving the Indian clock

The inability to outsource work in rural India and the unwillingness to step out in urban India keeps the Indian woman working at home for ‘free’.

Time use will change as countries go through various phases of development. Specialization in one’s own work will be more valuable rather than fending for oneself in all aspects. People will start spending more time on their core work for which they are paid – this will require them to outsource work rather than doing it themselves.

Ease of access, availability and affordability of bijli, sadak, paani can help free up time that can be more productively spent either at work or in leisure.

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