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Sri Lanka Table of Contents

Sri Lanka

Characteristics and Occupational Distribution

A precise breakdown of the labor force and movement within it was not possible in the late 1980s because the official statistics were not reliable. Early censuses, taken when the island was a British colony, compiled long lists of occupations with little comparability from one census to the next. The postindependence censuses also suffer from inconsistencies. They show a decline in the proportion of the work force engaged in agriculture, hunting, forestry, and fishing from 52 percent in 1953 to just over 45 percent in 1981. The proportion of the work force engaged in manufacturing remained steady over the same period, at 10 percent. The largest increase was in services, including commerce, banking, and finance. The proportion of workers in this category rose from 11.2 percent in 1953 to 15.7 percent in 1981. There was also an increase in construction, from 1.9 percent to just over 3 percent. Transport, storage, and communications increased from 3.5 percent to 4.8 percent over the same period. All such figures should be regarded as tentative and subject to revision.

Demographic and educational changes after independence altered the composition of the work force as much as economic development. Rapid population growth brought additional workers into the job market every year and lowered the average worker's age. The growth of the economy was too limited to provide opportunities for the new workers. Similarly, the extension of education qualified many thousands of youths for jobs that did not exist. This fact has been particularly true for women, who in the 1980s made up about 25 percent of the labor force despite equal access to education.

Data as of October 1988