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Fewer women decide by themselves how to spend their incomes: National survey

Decisions on how a wife’s income is used are increasingly being decided jointly by the couple rather than by the woman

May 30, 2022 / 08:01 AM IST
One in six married women with an income reported that they have no say in how their earnings are used, according to the survey.

One in six married women with an income reported that they have no say in how their earnings are used, according to the survey.


Fewer married women are deciding for themselves on how they should spend their earnings now than 15 years ago, while an increasing proportion of them making that decision jointly with their husbands.

At the same time, one in six married women with an income reported that they have no say in how their earnings are used, and this proportion remains unchanged from a decade and a half ago, data collected by the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) shows. The decisions in such households continue to be taken by the husbands.

The decline in the proportion of women deciding independently on how to use their earnings was seen when in a parallel move hordes of women withdrew from the workforce.

The national report of the latest round of the NFHS, or the fifth round conducted between 2019 and 2021, published earlier this month shows that just about 18 percent of married women with an income were making decisions independently on how to spend their earnings. When the third round of the survey was conducted in 2005-06, that proportion stood at 24 percent. The proportion of women who said that these decisions were made jointly with their husbands climbed 10 percentage points to 67 percent over the same period.

The 2005-06 round of the survey had estimated the share of married women in the age group 15-49 years in employment at 43 percent. That proportion had declined to 32 percent during the fifth round, which was slightly better than 31 percent recorded in 2015-16.

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The drop in the proportion of married women who decided themselves how their earnings were spent was visible across both urban and rural India as also among those with different levels of education. Only women from the wealthiest section defied the trend – the proportion of such women making an independent decision on spending saw a tiny decline.

Decision on men's earnings

On wives’ getting a say in how men’s earnings were used, a larger proportion of women said that decisions were taken jointly compared to 15 years earlier. Compared to 62 percent of women reporting in 2005-06 that these decisions were taken jointly, the share had climbed to 71 percent. Also, there was a small drop in the proportion stating that their husbands decided themselves – from 25 percent in 2005-06 to 21 percent in 2019-21. Just a little more than six percent of married women say that they could decide themselves how their husbands’ earnings were used.

When the men were asked same question - who decided on how their incomes were used - there wasn’t any change between the two rounds of the survey. The proportion that said that decisions were taken jointly was almost unchanged at 66 percent. The proportion of men who said that they alone decided how their income was used stood at around 28 percent in both rounds - which incidentally was a higher than was reported by women. That indicates that many men were either unwilling to acknowledge that joint decisions were taken or that the women were made to believe that they had a say in how their husband's income was used. The proportion of men who said that their wives decided independently how their incomes were used rose – from 2 percent to 6 percent.

Shopping decisions

The most significant change in women’s participation in decision making was seen when major household purchases were made. Fewer men were making that decision themselves. As a result, the proportion of households where the decision was made jointly by the husband and wife jumped from 44 percent in 2005-06 to 72 percent in 2019-21. The proportion of men taking the decision unilaterally halved from 32 percent in 2005-06.

Men were also questioned on their attitudes towards their wives’ participation in decision making. The proportion of men who felt that wives should decide themselves how they used their earnings dropped from 20 percent to about 18 percent in 15 years and the proportion of those who felt that the husband should decide rose by two percentage points. A majority of the men wanted decisions taken jointly.

On major household purchases, very few men were willing to let that decision be made by their wives (less than 10 percent) but more than a fourth wanted to take that decision by themselves. The proportion of men who felt that such decisions should be made jointly declined by about five percentage points to 63 percent.

On purchases of daily household needs, men reported seeking a greater say now than was the case 15 years ago. About 54 percent want these decisions to be made jointly as opposed to 40 percent in 2005-06. As a result, the proportion that felt the wives should make such decisions on their own declined from 37 percent to 25 percent.
Tina Edwin is a senior financial journalist based in New Delhi.
first published: May 30, 2022 08:01 am
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