Focusing on urban Kenya, this paper attempts to identify the sources of the temporal increase in women’s employment rate between 1986 and 1998. The paper relies on labour survey data, household responses to coping strategies and case studies. The analysis presented in the paper shows that the bulk of the increase in women’s insertion into the labour market comes from an increase in the work participation of married women. While women’s higher educational endowments, particularly the increase in secondary education, account for an improvement in their employment prospects, the period also witnesses a sharp decline in the importance given to education in determining employment and by 1998, university graduates were just as likely to be employed as individuals with no education. The period between 1986 and 1998 witnessed civil service reforms, restructuring of the private sector, firm closures and increasing job insecurity. Notwithstanding the role of education, declining opportunities for males, who in 1986 were the primary breadwinners and the accompanying income and employment insecurities within households seem to be the key factors prompting the sharp increase in the labour supply of (married) women. The analysis presented in this paper focused mainly on the period 1986 and 1998 and while more recent data would have provided an updated picture of the issues discussed in this paper, there is little evidence to suggest that the situation of women in Kenya’s labour market has changed substantially in recent years.

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International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS)
ISS Working Papers - General Series
ISS Working Paper Series / General Series
International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS)

Wamuthenya, W. R. (2010). Economic crisis and women’s employment rate in a Sub-Saharan African country. ISS Working Paper Series / General Series (Vol. 500, pp. 1–37). Retrieved from