NEW DELHI: Women who work are less likely to get matches on matrimonial websites than those who do not, a new study has found. Diva Dhar, a doctoral candidate at University of Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government, conducted an experiment to test her hypothesis that working women are penalised in the marriage market and found that, in fact, women who have never worked receive 15-22% more interest compared to those who wish to continue working. Basically, for every 100 men who respond to a woman who has never worked, only 78-85 will respond to a working woman.
Dhar said that as someone who researches women’s labour force participation in India, she was interested to see the way gender roles, specifically when it comes to marriage, impact working women. “I’m at that age where a number of my friends have given up work after marriage or at least downsized their careers. I wanted to see if that anecdotal feeling that women are penalised for working pans out through an experiment,” she said.
So, she made 20 fabricated profiles on a leading matrimonial website. The profiles were identical when it came to age, lifestyle preferences and diet – everything except whether they work, wish to work in future and how much they earn. She made these profiles for different caste groups. “Then, I selected sample suitors that met certain eligibility criteria and they received invites from these profiles,” she added.
“What stood out is that women who don’t work get the highest response rate from men. The ones who are working but are willing to give it up are next in line,” said Dhar. “Where there is a stark difference is the women who want to work after marriage – there you see a steep decline in response rates. What a lot of women have suspected going through the marriage market is in fact a reality.”
Interestingly, of the women who wish to continue working after marriage, higher-earning women were more popular among suitors. Compared to the non-working category, men were 10 percentage points less likely to respond to women who earn more than them and 15 percentage points less likely to respond to those who earn less than them. “If you’re going to have a working wife then income acts as a sweetener,” she pointed out.
Dhar said this penalty impacts women’s labour force participation in India since the marriage norm was very strong. “Ninety-nine percent of Indian women will get married by the time they’re 40. If you know that you have to get married and there’s a penalty if you’re working, you internalise that,” she said, adding that it causes women to not try to build careers before marriage or to stop working once they are married.
Dhar is doing follow-up research with a larger sample size along with Farzana Afridi and Kanika Mahajan. The goal, long-term, is to possibly mitigate this bias through various interventions.