Should women spend their income on family expenses?
A reader, Rohit, sent me an email asking me my opinion on an issue many couples face. This problem afflicts a small section of urban educated couples, but it does seem to have become a serious source of conflict and at times it can lead to a break-up. The question is:
Should a working couple share the financial burden equally?
A part of Rohit’s email:
With changing times in educated urban class dowry is no more. Since the girls are also working and earning more the Indian girl has to share the marriage, honeymoon & family expenses equally along with boy. But Indian girls are using word tradition and demanding the guy is responsible for expenses.
Rohit feels that this is most unfair.
Minal, a reader, has contributed to this post. She writes:
This would be a classic case of what you would call pseudo-feminism. These women, and some men coolly forget the fact that rights come only with responsibilities and duties. If you wish to equal the men you should be prepared to equal them in their burdens too.
Minal calls this a “selective form of feminism.” On one hand women are freed from the pressure to perform traditional household duties like cooking and cleaning, and yet they are unwilling to share other responsibilities, and this could mean financial responsibility or “outside” work which is traditionally a man’s job. For example taking the car to the garage or fixing things around the house or spending her salary. Minal believes that the total responsibility of the house, should be shared equally and that each partner has to come to an understanding about what he/she feels more comfortable doing. It’s not what one partner does, but how much she/he does that counts.
Well, if a woman is earning and the man is sharing the household chores equally with her, it makes sense that her salary be considered a part of the joint income.
What I feel uncomfortable with is the squabbling over the division of duties, and the reasons are personal. My experience was very different. For my husband and me sharing fell into place naturally. When it came to my earnings we never discussed it but I spent as well as saved it. My husband never asked me as to how much of it I spend and how much I save. Now when I look back I think we spent about 90% of his salary and about 60-70% of mine, and well, my salary was less than half of his. However if we ever needed money for a major expense, out came my cheque book and it was never a big deal. It could be a washing machine or a small out-of-town trip, but if we fell short, as we invariably did in those days, the money would come from my savings. In any case, both of our accounts were joint accounts.
The responsibility of the house was entirely mine, which meant supervision of household help, grocery shopping, supervision of workmen, cooking and looking after the children. This was not because my husband didn’t want to help, but simply because his job at the time involved a lot of travelling, often 15-20 days a month. His working hours were almost double that of mine even when he was in town. If he was home he was always willing to help with breakfast and invariably made the morning tea. I never resented the fact that I had to take on the major share of the household responsibilities (and no, we had no cook and no ayah) because I knew my hubby was working very hard. And I was too, although it was at a different thing. More important, this had been my choice. If I had chosen full-time work my husband was ready to support me. And in fact he did, about five years later, when I decided to go back to full-time work.
But I can see where couples can run into trouble. When there is no compromise, from one or both sides.
I believe that feel this issue of women being reluctant to share their income is more about personalities rather than anything else. If one partner is more selfish he/she is likely to shirk his/her duties and it may have nothing to do with “modernity” or “feminism” or “working women.” Just as there will be men who will not lift a finger in the house even if their wife is on her feet the whole day, and sometimes half the night if there are small children, there are women (who could be housewives) who expect their husbands to come home from work and cook for them. Just as there are men who expect their wife to bring in the salary and hand it over to them, and also have a hot meal ready for when they come home, there are women who refuse to think of their salary as that belonging to the family. Maybe it is because they feel insecure, but the result is that her spouse may start to resent the fact that he is working inside and outside the home, but his wife isn’t.
I am quite sure that there are far more women at the receiving end of the stick than men, but amongst the highly educated young middle class, it is possible that both men and women are equally guilty. However I have no numbers to provide here. One will have to delve into all the recent divorce cases amongst modern urban couples which have taken place due to a rift caused by the division of responsibilities and see whether it is the man who is to blame for not contributing equally to the household (financially or otherwise) or the woman.
(Photo is copyrighted to me)