Working women less favored by marriage suitors, study finds

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In Indian Matchmaking, Mumbai-based matchmaker Sima Taparia, whom we lovingly know as Sima Aunty, voiced all the cultural anxieties of Indian households. In addition to casteism, colorism and classism, her interrogations on the “marryability” of women have given rise to ideas about gender roles and traditions. The most controversial point was whether the wife intended to work after marriage. The hesitation aligned with gender norms dictating the rigid notion that employed women were women without the traits necessary to be a wife.

This bias that Indian women face in the marriage market, called the “marriage market penalty”, lives in anecdotes and through “subtle” interactions. A recent study quantified the extent of this bias, noting how jobs and aspirations become means to discriminate against Indian women.

Titled “Indian Matchmaking: Are Working Women Penalized in India’s Marriage Market?”, The paper examines female profiles on Shaadi.com, how male suitors respond to questions about work and income, and whether their interest wanes. “The sad reality is that there is a significant penalty in the marriage market for women who express an interest in pursuing a career after work,” wrote Diva Dhar, study author and researcher at the University of ‘Oxford. As part of the experiment, Dhar made marriage profiles of women on Shaadi.com, the platform shrouded in infamy for perpetuating caste and class biases, in addition to reinforcing gender stereotypes. The profiles were modeled after real-life women and varied across different caste groups.

Broadly, there were five categories of women: women who had never worked and showed no interest in working after marriage; working women with low income (somewhere between Rs. 2,00,000 and 4,00,000 per year) and wished to continue working after marriage; working women with low incomes who did not wish to continue working after marriage; working women with a high income (Rs. 7,00,000-1,000,000 per year) and wishing to continue working after marriage; women working with a high income and wishing to give up their job after marriage. The idea was to glean interest from male respondents based on both inclination to work and the income that women earn in the first place.

Unsurprisingly, the most popular women on these dating sites were those who were not working and expressed no interest in working; up to 70% of men responded to their profiles. “There is a sharp drop in response from women wanting to continue working after marriage…women who have never worked receive 15-22% more interest in the marriage market compared to women who wish to continue working. Interestingly, the overall punishment was reinforced in more privileged caste circles, such as brahmins and Agarwals.


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Ironic appreciation of ‘Indian matchmaking’ signals ideological blind spot


The marriage market penalty in India, and around the world, has deeply misogynistic roots. Anxiety goes that a working woman will be too distracted domestic work, childcare and the traditional duties that marriage confers on women. It is the same vein of discrimination that drives women to quit their jobs or refuse better opportunities for ‘family reasons’. In a 2018 study, researchers looked at women from Delhi, Mumbai, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh and found that more than half of Indian adults believed that married women whose husbands earn well should not work outside the home. of the House.

A 2017 study added to definitive research on this stereotype, showing that 40% of men surveyed believe that working women do not have a good relationship with their children compared to stay-at-home moms. The argument here not only normalizes gender roles, but re-emphasizes ideas of motherhood and how it comes naturally to women. It’s not true.

Quantifying the marriage market penalty is important for two reasons. First, it provides critical context to the link between marriage and women’s wages. The researchers studied themale marital wage premiumthe phenomenon that explains why married men earn more than single men. But the impact of marriage on women’s wages is relatively under-explored, but necessary to make sense of the shrinking female labor force in India (India currently low rank on gender parity in labor market participation), what motivates their interests and why they slip through the cracks. Thus, one of the reasons why women may be discouraged and/or conditioned not to pursue employment opportunities is to see better outcomes in the marriage market.

To pander to the likes of Sima Auntys is also a social process. The researchers of the 2017 paper note “that social norms regarding women’s roles as domestic caregivers often mean that women are prevented from seeking work, and that these views may, in turn, be internalized, suppressing their participation in the labor market.

Moreover, current data also helps to understand why marital customs like dowry and even arranged marriages persist despite cultural awareness and the rise of “progressive” ideas. Many Indian families make liberal use of a dichotomy by calling themselves modern and “in tune with the times”, while insisting on finding a tall, wealthy, fair and educated heterosexual partner from a “good” family. . When the shows and mainstream narrative normalize these considerations, the bias that women may face in exercising their agency to work is also normalized.

Simi Aunty, the arbiter of all prejudices, knew best.


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