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Ok, I confess. I recently read Chetan Bhagat’s One Indian Girl. I decided to check out the book after hearing that the author had delved deep into the psyche of the Indian girl and claimed to represent the reality of the Indian women. In the book, the Indian girl’s first boyfriend rejects her because she earns an obscene amount as bonus on top of a much higher salary. She is happier and more successful as an investment banker in a top notch firm than he was in his job. Obviously, he feels emasculated, threatened and retaliates by dumping her. The book, despite its unlikeable unidimensional characters throws up an interesting question.
Does it really matter if the wife makes more money that her husband?
I thought about some of the couples I knew. There was S whose husband gave up his job and followed her to Europe after her promotion and G whose husband could dabble in business because she had a good steady income. And M who quit his job as a consultant to join his wife’s growing online retail business.
Yet, when I considered the bigger picture, I realized that such examples were few. Most of the women had been classmates of the men they married-something to be said in favor of campus romances. All of them were well educated. They formed a tiny proportion of the working women in our country.
There were other stories, heard only in whispers and sighs.
A girl whose parents could not find a groom from their community who would accept her high profile job in a multinational company.
A woman who could not tolerate the taunts from her in-laws when she stepped out to go to work while her husband lurked at home nursing his bruised ego.
A woman who refused a promotion to keep the peace at home and pander to her husband’s insecurity.
A young wife whose husband cheated on her and when confronted, blamed it on her ‘bossiness’ since she earned more than him.
A woman earning more than her husband seems to have many adverse results, not only in India but in other parts of the world. A University of Chicago research shows a strong correlation between earning power of the woman and divorce rates. Working women who earn more also spend more time on housework, apparently to assuage the husband’s fears that she will no longer be the typical wife. A research by Cornell shows a negative relationship between women’s earnings and husband’s fidelity.
Clearly the world is changing fast but mindsets are not changing at the same rate. Economic exigencies dictate that the person best qualified for a particular job should be doing it but social norms dictate otherwise. The consequences of holding on to the traditional notions of men as the primary providers and women as primary nurturers are disastrous for BOTH genders.
Women will cease to demand equal pay for equal work. They will neither expect or desire success if it could wreck the domestic harmony. They will not put in their best at any job they take on since a promotion could be a potential minefield. Productivity will drop.
Men will assume that they will be given a higher salary since they have a family to provide for. They will feel a sense of entitlement stemming from their role as primary bread winner. They will expect to be paid irrespective of performance. Productivity will drop.
Gender equality will remain a dream.
Women will feel tense and resentful when they come back home after a long hard day. They are still too invested in their role as the nurturer and housekeeper. They will insist on helping the children with their homework and doing household chores. They will feel exhausted and burdened all the time and blame their husbands for not contributing to their bit. Family life suffers.
Men will feel tense and resentful since they are at the receiving end of jibes and jokes on who wears the pants in house. They are too invested in their role as provider and refuse to pull their weight with household matters. They will feel jealous and insecure and blame their wives for being too ambitious and selfish. Family life suffers.
Work Life balance will remain a chimera.
There are no shortcuts or easy answers. Every family has to find a way to work things out.
“Did you mind when I earned more than you?” I asked my husband. We were both batch mates in business school and when we graduated, I started work in a foreign bank while he joined an FMCG company. As I went off to Singapore with a lucrative per diem and stayed in a five star hotel, he trudged the dusty lanes of Gulbarga peddling bathroom cleaners and crawled into a Rs 70/night lodge at night.
“No, not at all, he replied. “It didn’t even cross my mind.” We have been married for many years and while we disagree on many things, who makes more money has not been one of them. As an independent consultant, I don’t earn as much as he does now but for the first few years of our married life, I did have the bigger paycheck.
“Why didn’t you mind?” I probed.
“If you make more money, that means more money for us- for better vacations and more interesting experiences.”
“True.. but what about the male insecurity and all that?” I continued.
“Actually, I am more secure. I don’t have to stick to a job if I don’t like it. I could take a sabbatical for six months and do stuff I really wanted to because you were earning well.”
“What if I had stayed on with a fulltime job and had become CEO with a fat salary?” I decided to put him in a spot.
“Then I would quit and do all the things I want to do, travel, study, teach.”
And? I gave him a meaningful look.
“And.. Oh, of course supervise homework and housework,” he added hastily.
Today we are happy with the choices we made and lessons learnt.
It is not always easy. It takes time and patience. I asked a few friends about their experiences.
“In the beginning, I didn’t let my in-laws know that I earn more. I would not celebrate my Bonuses or ESOPs. I had to be very careful about what I said and how I behaved. Slowly, over the years, they realized and accepted.” said a friend who has always been earning more than her spouse.
It needs a different perspective.
“My husband happily quit his job, knowing that I had a good position in my company. My in-laws are educated and they accepted that.” admitted another friend.
It needs some letting go.
“I finally kept a cook and didn’t kill myself trying to prepare meals and prepare for meetings.”
“My husband takes care of all the housework, running errands and I appreciate him for it. I keep appreciating him.”
What I have learnt is that once you become a family, individual goals and family goals need to be aligned. Just like in an organization. Sometimes, one takes precedence over the other, at other times there is a need to sacrifice for the greater good. We need to look at the individual income as a part of the family income and individual successes as the family’s triumph, then spouses need not worry about who makes how much outside or who does how much inside the house. The spouses need to have clarity on their goals and priorities instead of being dictated by what the outside world expects of them. Then these money matters will really not matter when it comes to the happiness and well- being of the family unit.