Attitudes and Sex-Role Perceptions among Working Couples in India

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INTRODUCTION

This study contrasts the attitudes and sex-role perceptions of working couples differing in terms of wives' job status (career vs. non-career wives) and belonging to two socio-cultural settings in India which can be regarded as distinct with respect to norms of gender equality. These norms are assumed to be reflected in women's general social status, literacy rate and rate of work participation.

With the participation of women in the formal economic sector globally, research interest in the dual earner, dual career or double pay cheque families has also increased (Hart Mann, 1981; Hood, 1983; Huber and Spitze, 1983; Kapur, 1970, 1974; Meissner, Humphreys, Meis and Scheu, 1975; Ramu, 1987, 1989; Shukla, 1987, 1989). Of particular interest to researchers have been the family management patterns and sex-role perceptions as influenced by women's increased role outside her home boundaries. In general, the existing findings indicate that regardless of their employment status, women continue to bear the major house hold responsibilities and perform multiple roles as worker, home maker, mother and wife. Another important observation is that even in dual earner families, men continue to enjoy their main breadwinner or provider status. Ramu (1987,1989) found that both husbands and wives in dual earner families in India perceived men mainly in their provider role. The striking finding was that the employed wives, more than the non-employed, were the most conservative in their perception of husband's roles. The gender identity, rather than women's work status, was more important in determining their attitudes towards adult roles and marriage. In other words, women's work status did not help them to alter their sex-role perceptions. Shukla (1988) reported that dual earner couples experienced maximum satisfaction in performing their gender defined roles. For an American sample, Hood (1983) showed that while couples generally accepted the necessity and importance of women's economic contribution, very few of them were willing to relinquish the abstract ideal of men in provider role. That such gender based perceptions help in maintaining the traditional division of household labour, is supported by findings that indicate role overload, role stress and role conflict among working women (Chakraborty, 1978; Epstein, 1971; Kapur, 1974; Rapaport and Rapaport, 1982).

Sex-role perceptions and attitudes towards working women are influenced by the cultural norms of gender equality which determine the position of women in society and their educational and economic status. In most societies, as also in India, cultural norms favour women mainly in their domestic and marital roles (Rao and Rao, 1988). If they work, they are regarded merely as secondary or supportive earners. It is the husbands who are accorded the "main provider" status (Ramu, 1989).

It is suggested that women's employment does not alter sex - role perceptions mainly because of the prevailing culturally defined gender based norms. Ramu's explanation of the traditional sex-role perceptions among working couples in India is that both men and women continue to be governed by the traditional beliefs and values which "encourage wives to acknowledge and defer to their husbands even though they share the provider role" (Ramu, 1987 913). For a western sample, Hardesty and Bokemier (1989) have suggested that it is important for women to them selves hold egalitarian sex-role attitudes when expecting similar attitudes from others and co-operation from husbands in household matters.

Studies on women and work have also made use of the concept of resources to examine family and marital patterns among working couples (Blood and Wolfe, 1960). The Resource theory specifies education, income and occupation as resources in bargaining for power within the marital relationship. The partner who possesses a greater level of these resources enjoys greater power and control. …