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Women traditionally don’t have much say in family decisions in India’s patriarchal set-up. Is this changing as more women marry out of choice? A new study finds that women who choose their husbands themselves end up having more authority at home than women who had less choice in marriage.

The study, by Manjistha Banerji of National Council of Applied Economic Research and Ashwini S. Deshpande of Duke Global Health Institute, is based on surveys of around 21,000 married women and their husbands and in-laws in 2004-05 and 2011-12. Women at different stages of marriage were interviewed, but those aged 20-49 in 2004-05 received special emphasis.

The survey asked families who had the most say at home on household decisions such as what should be done when a child falls sick, whom the children should marry, and what household appliances to buy.

The results show that in marriages where women had some but not complete choice over their partner, husbands had more authority, not the parents-in-law. In marriages where the women had no choice over their partner, the parents-in-law, especially mothers-in-law, held more authority. When women had full choice, husbands had the least decision-making authority.

The study also finds that across all marriage types, when senior members at home lose authority, it is the husbands who gain, not the wives.

The results differ by age group. Women in their late 40s and older, even if they had full choice in picking their partner, didn’t have any more authority at home compared to women who married with less choice. This means that for relations between men and women of older generations, the way they married makes little difference to a woman’s lack of authority at home because of pressure from customs and traditions.

Also read: “Does ‘Love’ make a difference? Marriage choice and post-marriage decision-making power in India"

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