Family planning, health and education programmes have done a lot to improve the lives of women in rural India, but getting more young rural women to work in jobs that don’t involve wage labour is the next step for gender equality and the country’s economic health, according to Dr. Carol Vlassoff, author of a new book, “Gender Equality and Inequality in Rural India: Blessed with a Son.

Vlassoff, 69, has been studying the village of Gove in Satara District of Maharashtra state since 1975. She determined through her work there that bringing rural women into the modern economy in India means making more job opportunities available to them, particularly professional, white-collar jobs.

Doing this also could lead to slowing population growth in India, one of the world’s most populous countries with an estimated 1.2 billion people. She found, according to a press statement accompanying the book, “that self-employed and professional rural women were more likely to use contraceptives and delay having their first child than unemployed women with the same amount of schooling.”

This, she said, also helps promote gender equality at a time when parents, although fond of their daughters, consider a son essential. Daughters can be a financial burden on parents because, despite the abolition of dowry, grooms’ parents often expect substantial gifts. As a result, in Gove and elsewhere, parents sometimes choose to abort a female fetus. Half of the women Vlassoff interviewed in the village said they knew of women who have done this, she said.

Vlassoff, who worked at the World Health Organization on women’s empowerment, has been conducting studies in the village, which now has a population of 3,600, since 1975. The nearly 500 women in her latest study are 15 to 49 years old.