Labour Trends

Women's Day: Indian men are more open to women working – even more open than Indian women

The International Labour Organisation's 'women and work' report also reveals that 65% of Indian men want women to work, compared with 52% of Indian women.

What do men and women think about the idea of women working in paid jobs?

According to the latest statistics from the International Labour Organisation, 70% of women across the world would prefer to work in a paid job. Close on their heels, 66% of men also want women in their families to get paid jobs.

In India, however, the gender gap seems to be wider, and reversed: a larger number of Indian men – 65% – want women in their families to work paid jobs, and just 52% of Indian women want such jobs for themselves.

These are some of the striking findings from a new ILO-Gallup report, titled Towards a Better Future for Women and Work: Voices of Women and Men, released on the occasion of International Women’s Day. The report claims to provide the “first-ever account of global attitudes and perceptions of women and men regarding women and work”. It is based on a global poll conducted by research consultancy firm Gallup, surveying 149,000 people in 142 countries, and claims to be representative of 99% of the global adult population.

The report establishes that in general, global attitudes towards women working are positive. For instance, globally, the number of women and men who prefer women to be working in paid jobs is more than twice the number of people who prefer women to stay at home: 27% of women and 29% of men prefer women to stay at home. Of the 70% women who would prefer a paid job, the majority are women who are not currently in the workforce, but would like to be.

Family attitudes towards working women are also largely positive – an overwhelming majority of women and men in the survey claimed that their families find it perfectly acceptable for a woman to work in a paid job, with or without the additional responsibility of housework. However, balancing work and family life emerged as the biggest challenge women face in the workforce across the world.

Meanwhile, men’s earnings are still the main source of the family income: 48% men said they are the main providers for their family, as against 26% women worldwide.

Most significantly, the ILO-Gallup study found that people’s perceptions of equal opportunity in the work sphere are far more positive than the reality on the ground, where women are still heavily under-represented in the workforce.

India and the world

Globally, 29% of the women surveyed said they would like to work in a paid job, while 41% said they would prefer to both work outside and care for their families at the same time. (This adds up to 70% who would like some kind of paid job.) Similarly, among men, 28% said they would want women to be in paid jobs and 38% said they would prefer women to manage both a job and the housework (adding up to 66%).

The statistics from India are slightly different: 30% Indian women want paid jobs, 22% want paid jobs with the option of managing family care at home and 41% would prefer to stay at home.

Indian men, meanwhile, appear keener than Indian women to see women working: 39% want women in their family to work in a paid job, 26% want them to manage jobs along with family care and 30% prefer women to stay at home.

Younger men and women in India are more open to the idea of women working than those in an older age group. Among those in the 15-29 age group, 57% women and 70% men would prefer women to work in some kind of paid job, while 37% women and 24% men would prefer that women stay at home.

However, among those above 30 years of age, 48% of Indian women and 62% of Indian men want women to have some kind of paid job, while 44% women and 33% men want women to stay at home.

Family acceptance and work-family balance

Since families play an important role in shaping attitudes towards women and work, the ILO-Gallup report also asked respondents across the world if it is “perfectly acceptable for any woman in your family to have a paid job outside the home if she wants one”.

Globally, 83% women and 77% men said that it is acceptable for women in their families to work outside. In the general Southern Asia region – which includes India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal and Iran – 66% women and 63% men said that it is acceptable for women to work in their families.

However in India, once again, men responded more positively than women: 71% Indian men said that their families find it acceptable for women to work outside, as against 69% Indian women.

In the majority of countries surveyed by the ILO-Gallup report, both women and men claimed that the biggest challenge for working women is the difficulty in reconciling work outside with the responsibilities of caring for the family at home.

In India, such “work-family balance” emerged as the topmost challenge for working women, followed by the “lack of flexible work hours”.

Perceptions of equal opportunity

The ILO-Gallup survey asked respondents if men and women with similar education and experience have equal opportunities to find jobs where they live, and found that there is a significant disconnect between people’s perceptions and the reality on the ground.

Worldwide, 40% of respondents (male and female) said that women would have the same opportunity to find a good job as a similarly-qualified man. Additionally, 27% said that women would have better opportunities to find jobs than similarly-qualified men, while 26.5% said women would have worse opportunities than men.

In India, a larger number of men and women (45%) seem to believe that women have better job opportunities than similarly-qualified men. While 37% Indians said women have the same opportunities as men, just 13% said they have worse job opportunities than men.

These perceptions, however, run counter to the fact that there are major gender gaps in labour markets across the world, particularly in Southern Asia, Northern Africa and the Arab states, where 2016 female participation rates in the labour force were as low as 28%, 23% and 21% respectively.

The global average of female labour force participation is 50%. Meanwhile, previous ILO research found that in India, female participation in the labour force declined from over 35% in 2004 to just 25% in 2011.

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