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