‘Does your mother-in-law stay with you?’ ‘How supportive is your mother-in-law when it comes to you pursuing a career?’ Could these be some of the questions employers may consider asking married women candidates appearing for job interviews or single women employees in line for promotions?
There is no reason for married women to opt out of the active workforce. However, in India, it is quite common for married women to stop working because taking care of the household becomes priority. This is where the presence of the mother-in-law plays a role, suggests the State of Working India 2023 report by Azim Premji University.
If the mother-in-law shares childcare responsibilities, the women will have the time to pursue paid employment. This will hold true for women in rural as well as urban India. However, not all mothers-in-law are supportive. Some may choose to impose restrictions and may not approve of their daughters-in-law stepping out of the house to work or pursue paid employment.
When it comes to households where an unemployed mother-in-law is present, the daughter-in-law is less likely to be able to pursue employment. In contrast, in households where a mother-in-law is present and is also employed herself or has been employed at some point in life, the daughter-in-law is more likely to be able to pursue a career. Here, the income and social status is of significance. Households with low incomes and where the mother-in-law herself is working would be more encouraging of and tolerant towards married women working because they could do with the additional income. Of course, households with no mother-in-law present offer more freedom to women who wish to take up paid employment.
Clearly norms are adhered to over generations.
Surprisingly, the report reveals that the year of childbirth witnessed a five percentage point increase in work participation rates, and five years after childbirth, women’s work participation was 30 percentage points more than the year preceding marriage. That means, the level of impact on women after childbirth was far less than the impact following marriage. Men, on the other hand, hardly witnessed any change in their work participation rates after the first child is born. As was seen in the case of marriage, this increase in the participation rate of women is mostly in paid work, primarily in casual wage work in agriculture. Women in salaried jobs face little change after childbirth. This is slightly contradictory. The reason is that women in India get married quite early, as early as 18 years of age.
This is the age where most women have few employment options. Also, before marriage, at such an age, most girls are not encouraged to move outside the house to work, especially in the rural areas. A study of responses on marriage portals also reveals that in India, women who were employed before marriage received few positive responses from eligible boys compared to women who had not worked before.
Of course, after marriage, the situation may vary in keeping with the expectation to contribute to the family farm or business.
Women with higher autonomy levels (that is, decision-making power and access to finances) inside the home are also more likely to be employed. In fact, as per the report, they have an employment rate that is on average almost 10 percentage points higher than women with lower autonomy. Women with higher autonomy work around 4 hours, or half a day, more per week.