The significant fall in the labour force participation of rural women between 2004 and 2011 has been an issue that has generated considerable academic interest. In this paper, we look at thirty years of comparable NSS data from 1983 to 2011 of rural women’s participation in the labour force using a variety of definitions of female labour force participation that capture both market and non-market work. We find a long-term slow decline in the participation of rural women in wage work and self-employment, especially among dalit and adivasi women in poor agricultural labourer households. The more recent sharp decline in female labour force participation (FLP) in 2004-2011 has occurred both in market and non-market work, and across most categories of economically active women. Our analysis highlights the somewhat contradictory behaviour of rural FLP across different definitions and time periods, and across different correlates of female labour force participation, and suggests that more complex factors are at work than has usually been discussed in the literature.