The gender pay gap is real. For the year 2013, the gender pay gap in India was estimated to be 24.81%. According to the World Economic Forum, India ranks 108th on the gender gap index. Adding to that only 23 million households in India are headed by women, and the majority of these it is due to the absence of a male figure – divorce, death etc. Married women account for only 4% of these female-heads (Census). This number of female breadwinners is increasing over the years.While there is an obvious gap in the amount of income earned by women there is yet another underlying problem – the lack of financial autonomy, and this deters women from being financially independent.
Patriarchal Households and Financial Autonomy
In our current patriarchal family structures, there are designated roles- male breadwinners and female homemakers. However, a huge portion of women are also earning wages, albeit much lesser than their male counterparts, and contributing to the family income. Women own 20-30% of India’s $6 trillion household wealth, according to investment bank Credit Suisse’s report. However, with the patriarchal notions of the family, there is another inherent power difference- men are seen as the key decision-makers for all finances. Be it decisions regarding banking, loans, and major purchases to even purchase of insurance, men are the ones making the decisions. Thus, even though a woman will be out working the same eight or more hours, at the end of the day she hand’s over her earnings to the male of the family- mostly the husband. These incomes make way to bank accounts, were the primary holder is usually the man. This way, women lose autonomy over their earnings, and are less likely to be equally involved in financial decisions.
There is the additional problem of ‘prestige’. Researchers from the University of Bath have found that husbands are the most stressed when they are “entirely economically dependent on their partner” or when they are “the sole breadwinner.” However, once their wife begins to bring in more than 40 per cent of the household income, they begin feeling more stressed. Women who earn more than their husband, constantly under report their earnings in social situations.
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Finance Remains Man-Centric
There is a gap in financial literacy among men and women. There is no mandate for providing financial education at school level. In India, the gap is wider, with 80% of women compared with 73% men, according to the Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services Global Financial Literacy Survey 2015. Also, any ‘rainy day measures’ be it insurance or emergency funds are centred around men. In households, the male head is much more likely to have life insurance than the female member. 70% of working women have life insurance as compared to 83% of working men.
Women often have no control over their personal earned income. a large fraction of women are not involved in household decisions about spending their personal earned income. According to data published by World Development Report in 2012, 18% of women in India are not involved in decisions about their own income. When it comes to decisions about the total household income, only 53% of the women have an independent or joint say in household financial decisions.
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Speaking to Yamini Pustake Bhalerao, who works in media, she said, “While I am not the primary bread winner for my family, it isn’t as if my earnings are not taken seriously. Having said that, I am fortunate to have married a man who has never demanded that I hand over my income to him. My husband advises me to save and invest my money as much as possible, but the final control over my money is my own. I think earning your own money isn’t enough, unless women also have a say in how it is managed. A lot of us get intimidated by the prospect of financial planning merely because we are told it is a man’s domain and quickly give control of our finances to men close to us. We forget that they are prone to making mistakes just as much as we are. So why not do it ourselves? Once you get the hang of it, you realise what true economic independence feels like.”
Therefore, reform for women’s economic independence cannot be just restricted to the employment sphere and must percolate into the wealth management of households and a more egalitarian method of decision making.
Anureet is an Intern at SheThePeople TV