Why women need to work

Af­flu­ence has led to many work­ing women choos­ing not to work, re­sult­ing in ad­verse out­comes

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - Times Personal Finance - UMA SHASHIKANT

Air­ports look like bus sta­tions. Cel­e­bra­tions are grand. Peo­ple own sev­eral gad­gets at once. All trends that point to the fact that most In­dian fam­i­lies are bet­ter off than they were even a gen­er­a­tion ear­lier. The sin­gle big­gest achieve­ment of the lib­er­al­i­sa­tion of the econ­omy has been a higher stan­dard of liv­ing for many house­holds. Sta­tis­tics bear out that claim.

The phe­nom­e­non of ad­e­quate in­come in the house­hold to meet most ex­penses and man­age some sav­ings, has led to one no­tice­able change—more women are choos­ing not go to work, if they can af­ford to. Af­ford is the op­er­a­tive word to fo­cus on this week.

While young women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the work­force has risen sig­nif­i­cantly over time, mar­ried women are in­creas­ingly fall­ing off the em­ploy­ment curve, in what is seen as a bur­den­some re­spon­si­bil­ity of man­ag­ing home, chil­dren and work. This is not a new bur­den. Many women who went to work in the ear­lier gen­er­a­tions strug­gled through these prob­lems. Which is why I see this trend as one trig­gered by eco­nomic pros­per­ity. Women of the ear­lier gen­er­a­tions did not give them­selves a choice—the in­come they earned was im­por­tant for the fam­ily.

As in­comes in­creased, many women were able to step back and re­assess the need to kill them­selves try­ing to man­age home and work. This led to in­crease in mean­ing­ful choices, both for the house­hold and so­ci­ety. It is now com­mon for women to come back af­ter hav­ing a child to find a new job, or ac­quire skills to be­gin some­thing that fits with their new cir­cum­stance.

Women work from home, they choose jobs that pay them by the hour, they take on en­trepreneur­ship to con­trol their work hours, place and na­ture of work. But, there is ev­i­dence to show that some well qual­i­fied women, who could oth­er­wise earn and con­trib­ute to their house­hold and to the econ­omy, now choose to pur­sue other in­ter­ests in vol­un­teer­ing and so­cial en­trepreneur­ship.

What is the ad­verse out­come? The woman who is not work­ing out­side her home is in­creas­ingly seen with greater envy by the one who con­tin­ues to work and run a home. The stay-at-home mother ap­pears at the PTA, groomed to the last painted toe, armed with all the in­for­ma­tion about ev­ery ac­tiv­ity in the school, and flaunts her in­flu­ence with teach­ers and staff, hav­ing vol­un­teered at school. The em­ployed woman can’t match this.

The point I am mak­ing is, it has now be­come some­what fash­ion­able to not go to work. Women who earn an in­come now as­sert their po­si­tion as skilled work­ers who set their own terms. This is true for my help who says she only cooks for a few hours each day; for the young girl who works just week­ends to of­fer pedi­cures with a stylish kit and for the yoga teacher who will not take calls be­yond 10am. Ba­si­cally, eco­nomic ne­ces­sity is no longer the in­cen­tive, un­less it is re­ally dire.

There was a gen­er­a­tion of women that cringed at the lack of eco­nomic in­de­pen­dence, and ask­ing the hus­band for money was un­think­able. But we no longer find apolo­getic housewives on the other side of the spec­trum. Whether a woman should work and earn seems to have slipped from be­ing a ques­tion of eco­nomic ne­ces­sity, into a quag­mire of sta­tus and en­ti­tle­ment.

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