What NFHS-5 data reveals about gender in India

What NFHS-5 data reveals about gender in India


  • The National Family Health Survey-5 report is a mine of information, especially in the context of the growing paucity of data.

Key-Positive Signs

  • The TFR has been falling over the years and has now reached 2.0 at the national level, which means that India’s population will decrease soon — probably by 2047-48 — after reaching a peak of about 1.6 billion people.

NFHS-5 data reveals about gender in India

  • The proportion of 15- to 24-year-old women using menstrual care products has increased across almost all states between the fourth (2015-16) and the fifth (2019-2021) NFHS — although, it still remains low in states like Bihar (59 per cent) and in Assam and Gujarat (66 per cent). The largest increase was seen in Bihar and West Bengal.
  • Secondly, the sex ratio question needs to be scrutinised in detail. The good news is that India has now 1,020 women for every 1,000 men, against 991 for 1,000 in the 2015-16 NFHS. What NFHS-5 data reveals about gender in India
  • Thirdly, the NFHS shows that there is an increase in gender-related violence in many states. The proportion of married women (between 18 and 49 years) who have been a victim of spousal violence has increased in five states.
  • Last but not the least, women lag behind men in the literacy rate (71.5 per cent against 84.4 per cent for men). This is partly due to the number of years of schooling: Only 41 per cent of women have 10 or more years of schooling, against 50.2 per cent for men.
  • Correlatively, only 33 per cent of 15- to 49-year-old women use internet, against 57 per cent among men of the same age.
  • In spite of an increase in the number of women owning a house or land, the country still struggles with a digital divide in terms of accessibility between men and women.
NFHS throws up a mixed bag for State
Credit: – The Hindu

We need to end with a word on methodology.

  • First, the NFHS takes only certain demographic categories into account.
    • This, particularly, stems from the difference in questionnaires. The women’s questionnaire roughly has 1,140 questions and is 96 pages long, whereas the men’s questionnaire is 38 pages long with 843 questions.
  • Further, the sex ratios in the factsheet are based on de facto enumeration — the number of men and women present in the household on the last night of the survey.
  • The micro-level disparity in urban and rural dynamics might be camouflaged by migration.
  • The survey was conducted in two parts.
    • One, before the pandemic and the second phase was conducted around the second wave of Covid-19 in India.
    • This increases the scepticism over data collection, absence of meta-data and the systematic errors arising thereof.

State of women’s empowerment, India (2015-16 & 2019-21)

Participation in household decision-making

  • Nearly 88.7 per cent of currently married Indian women tend to participate in the key household decision about healthcare for themselves, make major household purchases and visits to family or relatives.
  • At least 16 out of 28 states and 6 out of 8 Union territories have more than 90 per cent women participating in household decision-making, a significant jump from 11 states and 2 UTs in the NFHS-4 survey.
  • At 91 per cent, women from urban areas have a greater say in household decision-making. Rural women are not too far behind; More than 87 per cent of rural women in India participate in household decision-making. Women’s empowerment in decision-making processes at a household level is cited to have multiple benefits.
  • Studies have indicated a positive relationship between women’s autonomy to make decisions with increased dietary diversity, better child and maternal health outcomes and improved food security.

Participation in paid works

  • All women work but few are salaried. This quote seems particularly true in the case of India (2019-21): Only 25.4 per cent of women aged 15-49 years who worked in the last 12 months were paid in cash.
  • Interestingly, there is not much discrepancy between both rural (25.6 per cent) and urban (25 per cent) women have in this category, although improvement is essential in this category to realise SDG goals.
  • Being paid for work is a right in itself, as it provides women with economic autonomy and recognizes the monetary worth of women’s labor.

Owning a bank or savings account

  • Among all selected indicators, the percentage of women having a savings / bank account that they themselves use has made the most significant improvement.
  • At the national level, India has seen a 35.6 percentage point jump within a matter of five years. This progress could be credited to schemes like Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana and the increasing microfinance initiatives over the past five years.

Owning a mobile phone 

  • There has been a small increase in women’s access to mobile phones over the last half-a-decade. The figure has gone up from 45.9 per cent to 54 per cent between the two surveys.
  • There is a significant gap between access to individual mobile phones between rural and urban Indian women.
  • Urban women (69.4 per cent) have disproportionately higher access to mobile phones as compared to their rural counterparts (46.6 per cent). Access to mobile phones is an important marker of women’s autonomy.
  • Access to that is associated with enhanced contraceptive use, easier access to financial services, leisure, and communication networks that go beyond kin networks.


  • There have been small steps towards progress, although Indian women still lag behind in literacy, and gender-related violence has increased in many states.
  • However, the Gender Development Index had pegged India’s position at 140th among 156 countries, thus there is always room for improvement and greater efforts need to be made for rapid transformation of women’s position in our society.
  • Women’s progress in indicators mentioned above is not just a means to a healthier, more progressive society but an end in itself.




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