Misogyny in the matrimonial market: Data shows Indian men prefer wives without jobs – The Indian Express

Also written by Abhishek Arora & Diva Dhar
More women and men get married in India than anywhere else in the world. In 2018, over 99 per cent women and 97 per cent of men above 35 were (ever) married. India was ranked 143 out of 146 countries in 2022 in the Global Gender Gap Report’s category for economic participation and opportunity category for women. In contrast to countries at similar income, education and fertility levels, female labour force participation rates in urban India at 24 per cent continue to be the lowest (Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS 2017-18)).
These two facts may be related. Can partner preferences in the marriage market influence women’s labour market decisions? In a setting with near-universal marriage, the preferences of potential spouses or their families may loom large for Indian women. If men systematically discriminate against employed women when it comes to choosing a life partner, this could contribute to women who might otherwise wish to work, choosing not to.
In a recent study, we carried out an innovative experiment on a large matrimonial website to understand the marital preferences of men. We found a striking penalty for employed women in the “marriage market”, especially in north India.
Matchmaking is now increasingly an online phenomenon, with over 1,500 online platforms for marital matching in India. Almost 90 per cent of young people under the age of 30 report using online matrimonial services to find their significant other (Lok Foundation-Oxford University Survey 2018). Measuring male preferences expressed through these platforms, thus, is a good way to capture women’s experiences and the trade-offs they may have to make.
We created and observed many different fictitious profiles for women on a leading matrimonial platform. While the profiles were identical on aspects such as age, height, family characteristics such as demographics and income, we varied the profile’s details on working status — both whether the woman was currently working, and whether she wanted to continue work after marriage.
For profiles of working women, we further varied their occupation as either “feminine” (for example, school teacher), “masculine” (technical supervisor) or gender “neutral” (data entry operator) based on the existing proportion of women workers in these occupations (as per the Periodic Labour Force Survey, 2018-19). We created these profiles for different castes (Brahmins, other high castes and Scheduled Castes), education (Diploma, BA, MA) and for two different cities (Bengaluru and Delhi). We then monitored each profile for a month to observe the responses of male suitors.
Using data on responses to each female profile we found that the ones who were employed received nearly 15 per cent fewer responses from male suitors relative to those who were not working. The preference for non-working female partners holds across all education groups of female profiles. Moreover, women employed in “masculine” occupations were additionally 3 per cent less likely to receive responses compared to women employed in “feminine” occupations.
Lastly, a woman in a “masculine” job who stated a preference to continue to work after marriage was less likely to elicit male interest, relative to a woman in a “feminine” job who preferred to continue working. These patterns are likely to reinforce the gendered patterns that typify the Indian workforce, making it harder for women to work, especially in occupations where they are not already well represented.
We also find that profiles of working women elicited less interest from men even when their caste, education levels and family incomes matched those of the men. These results are driven by responses from higher caste men in Delhi, where patriarchal norms are more salient. Further, the level of discrimination against working women was higher by male suitors with lower education levels, who are more representative of the average male population in India.
It is worth remembering that having a spouse who works is likely to increase household income significantly. By penalising women for making this choice, men are expressing a preference that is strong enough that they are willing to give up additional household income.
Data on women’s market and domestic work in India reveal patterns that line up with these male preferences. In urban India, married women spend almost 7.5 times more time on domestic work as compared to married men. Women in north India, and especially amongst high castes, spend more time on domestic work relative to women in the south (Time Use Survey, 2019). Thus, the gender gap in time spent in domestic work is significantly higher in north India.
Additionally, women who are not working spend much more time on domestic work — more than women in “feminine” occupations and much more than those in “masculine” fields (Consumer Pyramids Household Survey 2021). These findings suggest that male-dominated occupations may be characterised by more inflexible working schedules. Other evidence suggests that women who work, in general, and those who work in male-dominated occupations, may even be considered “sexually impure” due to greater interactions with men at work.
The marriage market penalty we document likely contributes to India’s persistently low female labour force participation and high levels of occupational segregation by gender. This segregation may also perpetuate the gender gap in earnings, because “feminine” occupations pay 30 per cent lower daily wages on average than male dominated, “masculine” occupations.
A developing country like India, seeking to achieve rapid economic growth can ill afford educated women staying out of the workforce. Changing norms and attitudes of men (besides women) is critical to increasing women’s participation and reducing their occupational segregation.
Afridi is Professor, ISI Delhi and Head, Digital Platforms and Women’s Economic Empowerment Programme; Arora is pre-doctoral student, Harvard University; Dhar is doctoral candidate, University of Oxford and Mahajan is Assistant Professor, Ashoka University
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