When Sandeep Mulay Kumar and his wife were investing in a property in Bengaluru, his mother found out that he was paying less than his spouse Pramitha Ramaprakash because he was earning less than her. “My mother took me into a corner and told me quietly that the fact that I’m earning less than my wife shouldn’t go out of the family," laughs the 38-year-old, while explaining how truly entrenched the patriarchal concept of men being the primary breadwinners is when it comes to Indian families.

The first time in 2011, when Ramaprakash got a higher salary, Kumar admits that it did bruise his ego a bit. “Pramitha had quit her job after our marriage and moved to the UK because of my career. Six months later, she finds a job, two hours away from my office, and she has been offered more money than I earn," says Kumar. Being from a family, where his father had been the decision-maker, for a few honest minutes, he did wonder what his family and friends would say. However, later he accepted that it was money they were collectively earning. The couple moved to be closer to Ramaprakash’s office. “It was easier for me to do this as we were living independently, in the UK, away from parental pressure," says Kumar. “In India it would have been more difficult to move cities for my wife’s job."

Breaking stereotypes

Marriage, and after that childcare, according to a survey by National Sample Survey of India for 2011-2012, is one of the most common reasons for women to drop out of jobs in India. In 2011, around 50% of unmarried women in the 15-60 age bracket were in the labour force, while the proportion for married women was a mere 20%. The trend is more prominent in rural than urban women, as couples with white-collar jobs can outsource housework, childcare and eldercare—mostly seen as a woman’s job after marriage.

Sharing household and childcare work is the only way that 34-year-old Tripti Abhijata could continue to work as a full-time manager in a company in Switzerland. As she joined office back after her son was born, Rajan Thambehalli, her 34-year-old husband, took care of the house and of their three-year-old, starting his own company for quizzing. Before having a child, both Abhijata and Thambehalli, were pursuing their own careers—Thambehalli as a consultant travelling around in Europe and Abhijata in Switzerland. After a child, moving frequently wasn’t possible. “We decided that we would move to the location of the spouse who gets a stable job first. It happened to be me," explains Abhijata. In 2013, Thambehalli quit his job as a consultant, started his career afresh, ending up in “mom meetings", she says.

Bengaluru-based Sandeep Mulay Kumar and Pramitha Ramaprakash are also comfortable with the difference in their salaries.
Bengaluru-based Sandeep Mulay Kumar and Pramitha Ramaprakash are also comfortable with the difference in their salaries.

“It was important for us to be together after we got married," says Thambehalli. Since 2013, Abhijata has been the primary breadwinner as Thambehalli has taken on the role of taking care of the household budget and their child. “My mother earned more than my father, so I never thought about it," says Thambehalli, adding that he can see their “normal" is not the usual practice around him as most of his male friends remain primary earners. The couple often get advice from “concerned people" about Abhijata not spending enough time with her child or for Thambehalli not having a job.

It’s perhaps the entrenched gender perceptions that make couples lie about their salaries, even in societies like the US. A study by the US Census Bureau published in June, which compared tax returns, found that while women are earning more than their male counterparts in 40% of US households, both have a tendency to lie about their salaries in cases when women are earning more than their husbands.

Money gap

The primary reason is that household and childcare is still considered a woman’s work, leading to working women doing two jobs in India—their professional one and the unpaid household work. “Things need to be balanced when it comes to household chores as well as expenses," says 29-year-old Malvika Bansal, a Gurugram-based content writer and researcher, who almost broke up with her live-in boyfriend, Prashant Patekar, a year ago, when she had to handle both the household and the bills as the primary earner for the couple. “When I was in a full-time job, even though he wasn’t in a job, he wouldn’t help me with household chores," she says. This led to frequent arguments. Eventually, Patekar found a job as a graphic designer and started to share home responsibilities. “A modern relationship isn’t possible without the complete support and effort from both the parties," says Bansal.

Financial arguments, especially in situations where more spending is required, are normal in any couple. What works is clear communication and in that, there’s no right way. Ramaprakash and Kumar decide every month what expenses will be paid by whom, while Abhijata gives a part of her salary to Thambehalli, who then handles household expenses. “We have arguments and differences but don’t allow ego to get in between and work it out as a family," says Abhijata.

Going against what’s considered normal is definitely not easy. Early last year, Kumar and Ramaprakash moved back to Bengaluru. “It was a tough decision as we left behind really good opportunities in the UK," says Kumar. However, he accepted the decision, finding a job in Bengaluru and taking on the role of the primary breadwinner again as Ramaprakash took a career break. New financial dynamics and living with Kumar’s parents, have brought in new challenges to the relationship. “When you have always been working and suddenly don’t work and depend on your husband, it’s not a good feeling," says Ramaprakash, adding that the relationship works only if both constantly support each other’s careers.

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If you are not the main earner

Never make it about the money. Money is just a means to live. It’s not your life or the basis of your relationship.

Be honest, especially if you feel frustrated. Communication is the key to working out the relationship.

Ask for help. Be it financial, emotional or life decisions, confide your fears and desires with your partner. Don’t take each other for granted.

Lead your own life. There’s no need for approval from society. Take decisions that make sense to both of you and live with them. Don’t fall for what’s considered normal around you.

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