Since women are perceived as secondary earners, their willingness to work is negatively affected by the rise in their husbands’ wages, the study says.
New Delhi: Despite an increase in their wages, women’s participation rate in the country’s labour force declined between 1983 and 2011 — from 35 per cent to 24 per cent, a new study has found.
A major deterrent for this was identified as the rise in the wages of their of husbands over a period of time, according to the study by Smriti Bhargava, a PhD scholar from Clemson University, South Carolina, USA.
The report is based on data collected by the National Sample Survey Office. Using a sample of 6,81,204 married couples across India, the study found a steady and dramatic increase in their “own-wage elasticity” from 1983 onward — meaning, as women’s own wages increased, their willingness to participate in the labour force also increased.
However, the study found a strong negative income effect of husband’s wage — increase in husbands’ wages reduced the probability of the wives’ participation in the labour force by 1.6–1.9 percentage points in these years.
According to the author, this heavy influence of the husbands’ income on their wives’ willingness to work “provides support to the theory that, given traditional gender roles, women are perceived as secondary earners within a family, and their labour supply is likely to be more negatively affected by their spouse’s wages”.
Also read: Despite India’s economic growth, the moment for China-like job creation may be lost
Role of education
This influence of husbands’ increasing income on their wives’ work depends on the level of education. “Because labour force participation is highest among the least educated wives, their estimated low elasticities (the degree of influence of one on the other) are consistent with the so-called ‘dual-earner’ models of the household, where wives’ participation in the labour market is driven by the struggle to subsist,” says the paper.
This implies that women with lesser education are integrated into the workforce early on in life, and usually have lesser opportunities to either shift jobs or leave the workforce, in order to support the household.
The study also found that there had been a greater participation of women, whose husbands were illiterate, in the labour force throughout these years — ranging from 46 per cent in 1983 to 32.1 per cent in 2011 — compared to wives of educated men.
The study points out that an increase in the husband’s wage also affects the wife’s labour supply through a combination of factors.
“For an income effect, an increase in husband’s wage increases wife’s consumption of leisure (assuming it is a normal good), leading to a substitution of her market time with non-market time,” says the paper. This means that as the husband starts earning more, the pressure on the wife to work lessens and they are not compelled to join the labour force.
Also read: India is the 12th worst country for gender disparity in labour force
The study also says this deterrent influence on women participating in the labour force is larger than the incentive they get from an increase in their own wage, owing to the gender role in the society in which they are considered as secondary earners.
However, as wives’ become more educated, they place greater importance on their labour market status and become more sensitive to their wages, claims the report.
“Medium-educated wives also face social barriers to out-of-home employment, since their work sends a negative signal value regarding the husband’s adequacy as the family’s provider,” the report adds.
In comparison, college-educated wives do not easily shift jobs or leave the workforce based on their own wages, reflecting “their relatively higher tastes for work, as they view it not as ‘jobs’ but as a ‘career’”, the paper says.
The study concludes that besides education and economic status, there might be other factors such as children that determine women’s participation in labour force.
The study also states that health insurance policies such as ‘Modicare’, which aims to provide Indian families with free hospital treatment, can have substantial income effects on women’s labour supply, especially those from economically weaker sections.