A recent study has shed light on a noteworthy trend in India's economic landscape – women in the country exhibit a greater inclination towards seeking employment as their husbands' salaries rise, particularly when their spouses earn around Rs. 40,000 (approximately) per month.
Traditionally, Indian society has often adhered to the "male breadwinner" norm, wherein husbands are traditionally regarded as the primary earners while wives contribute to the household income only when deemed necessary. However, this study has unveiled a different narrative. It reveals that in households where husbands earn substantial incomes, the probability of wives seeking employment tends to diminish. Interestingly, this trend begins to shift in rural India as the husband's income continues to rise. Conversely, in urban India, as husbands' earnings surpass the Rs. 40,000 per month mark, there is an observable uptick in the likelihood of wives seeking employment.
One plausible explanation for this phenomenon is that husbands with higher incomes are often paired with well-educated wives who possess both preferences and opportunities to access more lucrative employment options. This insight was gleaned from the State of Working India 2023 report, recently published by Azim Premji University.
Another noteworthy observation from the report is that women are more inclined to seek formal employment if their mothers-in-law are gainfully employed. In households where the mother-in-law holds a job, there is a substantial increase in women's workforce participation, ranging from 50% in rural areas to a remarkable 70% in urban settings, as compared to households without a working mother-in-law.
According to the study's findings, marriage has a substantial impact on women's employment prospects, particularly in rural regions of Karnataka and Rajasthan. Here, women experience a significant surge in workforce participation, jumping from 26% in the year preceding marriage to an impressive 49% within the first five years of marriage. These employment opportunities primarily manifest as contributions to family labor or self-employment in agricultural work.
The study underscores a crucial point about women's employment decisions in India – these choices are often influenced or made in conjunction with household members such as parents, spouses, and in-laws. Household structures play a pivotal role in shaping women's mobility and decisions regarding employment opportunities.
While the workforce participation rate for women in India is on the rise, the study's authors, led by Associate Professor Amit Basole, argue that this uptick isn't necessarily for the most favorable reasons. They contend that even two years after the 2020 lockdown, self-employment earnings remained at a mere 85% of what they were in the April-June 2019 quarter. Additionally, the study highlights the disproportionate impact of job losses and wage disparities faced by Indian women during the COVID-19 pandemic.