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Business News/ Opinion / Views/  Marriage has a significant link in urban India with women’s work
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Marriage has a significant link in urban India with women’s work

It alters the participation of women in spheres outside the home by either choice or custom and that’s a loss to our economy

Photo: HTPremium
Photo: HT

The twenties are a crucial decade for many, since young people finish their education, become financially independent, and marry.

What do we know about young people in their twenties today in urban India?

This is what we find: Rising education levels and unemployment are delaying the entry of young adults into paid work. While unemployment is high among single young men and women, marriage pushes virtually all Indian men to take up employment. In contrast, it results in women exiting employment in urban India. Both young men and women are bound by societal norms.

Graphic: Mint
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Graphic: Mint

One striking finding is that the labour force participation rate of young single women in their mid to late twenties is around 60% in urban India, almost three times that of married women in the same age bracket. It appears that suitable jobs for young women are available, at least in a higher proportion than generally perceived, and there is demand for women employees in the job market. Marriage, however, results in women dropping out of paid work, partly because the same jobs are no longer suitable, either because of time commitments or due to a change of home location.

We use the periodic labour survey (PLFS) data for 2019-20, the last complete year before the pandemic, to explore the lives of young adults (20-29 years) in urban India. The survey contains a sample of 32,955 young adults: 16,804 men and 16,151 women. We divide the sample into the early twenties (20-24 years), when many are still unmarried and in education, and mid to late twenties (25 to 29 years), when most settle into family life.

In 2019-20, in urban India, around 4 in 10 women and 1 in 10 men in their early twenties were married. Among married men, 9 in 10 were in paid work, while among married women, it was just about 1 in 10. This is a sobering statistics on the backdrop of the international women’s day coming up on 8 March.

Among single men of the same age, only about 45% of men were employed. If less than half of single men in their early twenties were in paid work, what were the rest doing? Around 38% were still studying, and 15% were unemployed. Compared to single men, a higher proportion of single women in their early twenties, 44%, were studying; 22% were in paid work, and another 13% were looking for a job. Both education levels and unemployment are rising among young Indians.

What about the mid to late twenties? While around 80% of women aged 25 to 29 years in urban India are married, the proportion is only about 44% for men.

Among single women in their mid to late twenties, the employment rate was over 45%. With another 17% of single women looking for work, six out of 10 single women of mid to late twenties in urban India were in the labour force. Among married women of the same age bracket, the proportion was less than 2 out of 10. This is a startling comparison in the context of low female labour force participation in India. Marriage alters women’s participation in spheres outside the home, either by choice or by custom. As a result, a majority of talented young women remain homebound. That is a personal as well as a national loss.

Also, our estimates from the Time Use Survey 2019-20 show that married women in their twenties who are in paid work sleep less and spend less time in leisure and social activities than married men who are employed. They also cut back on time at their workplace compared to single working women. All these adjustments ensure that domestic work gets done alongside their job. In contrast, the daily time use pattern of married and single young men does not show much difference. It is no wonder that some women, by choice, leave jobs after marriage. Carrying out nearly two full-time jobs simultaneously is not conducive to a good-quality life. Given this, it is welfare-enhancing for some women to leave paid work after marriage.

Domestic unpaid work, the main activity of 7 out of 10 married women in their early twenties in urban India, is an economic and social contribution that should not be undermined. Paid work, however, brings in added benefits to women, which men enjoy—more extensive social connections and networks, access to broader information, higher confidence and ability to negotiate, and more autonomy in family decision making including financial independence.

Equally, Indian men are also constrained by social norms of having to be the family breadwinner, even if the spouse is in paid employment and can single-handedly support the family. There is no option of dropping out of paid work to study, or of looking longer for work, with few exceptions.

As India transits into a more prosperous country, such cultural issues will take a centre stage.

Vivek Jadhav also contributed to this article.

Vidya Mahambare & Sowmya Dhanaraj are, respectively, professor of economics at Great Lakes Institute of Management, Chennai, and senior research fellow, Good Business Lab

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Published: 19 Feb 2023, 06:44 PM IST
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