Are marriages dying?
Marriage, as we once knew it, is dead today.
I don’t mean that fewer people are getting married, but the institution, as once designed, doesn’t exist anymore. It is in some sort of a flux right now, it’s hard to tell if it will completely disappear or make a come back with some re-branding.
As a married woman with a young kid, the personal conversations that I most often have with my peers is about the gender-labour gap in marriages.
Whether we admit to it or not, even today, on an average, women put in much more unpaid labour than men, irrespective of whether they have a paid job outside of home or not. And mind you, this is even after outsourcing a lot of the physical labour to third party agencies (cleaners, cooks, nannies and drivers).
The mental labour of hiring, training and managing staff or overseeing the upbringing of children is almost entirely handled by women in most households, including those with even women working, or only the women working.
Through my interviews with couples, I realised that most people don’t even acknowledge this “mental labour gap” yet, let alone admit to it in their respective marriages.
Unlike physical labour, it’s not easy to estimate mental labour. How do you account for the effort and time spent in figuring out what groceries to order, telling the cook what to make everyday, ensuring your home is being cleaned properly, or ensuring your child is eating on time, completing their homework/ project on time and constantly directing your partner on how they can pitch in at home?
Most women beamed as they told me that their husbands were so supportive at home when it came to sharing physical chores, unlike their fathers or brothers.
Our benchmark for an equal marriage is derived from the unequal marriages of the previous generation, so from that perspective, of course, marriages of today seem more equal than they were in the past. But is that good enough?
Years ago, I did this crazy exercise of tabulating all chores, estimating total unpaid labour (physical only!) and gender gap, both in my household as well as my parents’. This exercise was eye opening for all of us. The husbands were amazed at how much work was involved in running a home, and the wives were left wondering why we were living the way we were, despite being double career households.
In the traditional framework of marriage, there was definitely a lot of emphasis on equitable labour distribution given what men and women could do in that society - men worked outside, women worked inside.
But as our society evolved with more education and employment opportunities for women, the institution of marriage doesn’t seem to have kept pace. We still use dated wedding vows that hold little to no relevance today, and we still hold ourselves accountable to traditional standards and guilt.
In India, girls are raised with the sole purpose of making them marriageable. As a kid, I used to find it rather amusing that every action (rather inaction) of mine was somehow linked to a future performance in the marriage market.
“oh if you wake up this late everyday, your mother-in-law will chase you out of the house”, “if you study mechanical engineering, you will work in a factory and no one will marry you”, “if you don’t learn to do household chores, your in-laws will think you weren’t raised well” and so on.
So you see, women are well groomed in making themselves valuable in a marriage from a very young age. In the late 60s and early 70s, access to female education expanded. By late 70s and early 80s, the market for educated/ working brides in India went up. So, this further encouraged more and more women to be educated and get into employment.
The financial independence was an unsuspecting side effect, which influenced what women wanted from a marriage or a partner. Unlike their previous generation, they no longer needed financial support (for the most part).
Instead, they needed the same respect, understanding and support that their birth families had provided them up until marriage, in order to continue growing personally, and contribute to the society in ways they hadn’t done before.
However, having been raised to build good homes alongside studying/ working, this first generation of working women didn’t think it was even necessary to involve the husbands in household chores or childcare. They worked both inside and outside.
If you think about what women have achieved in the last 50 years, it’s pretty amazing. We’ve faired quite well in terms of becoming more “eligible”, and much more.
Children who were raised by such women did witness a labour-gap at home, and probably wondered if this was fair or not. Yet, when these kids grow up into adults, and find themselves in the marriage market, they make very different choices in terms of the type of marriage they want to build with their respective partners.
Women with jobs are clear that they want to build an equal marriage, where the role of the husband and wife is fluid. On the other hand, not all men with working wives make the choice of building an equal marriage.
This has a huge influence on their ability to get and stay married. For such men, it’s at tough market. If they don’t act now, marriage is not a viable option anymore. At least, you stand to have a lower bargaining power in today’s marriage market.
Unlike with women, we haven’t seen a mass movement in our society, outside of marriage, for men to acquire new skills that are valuable in a modern marriage - empathy, listening, inter-personal communication, anger management, general emotional management, household and childcare management.
As a society, we do not even acknowledge that these skills are critical for men in building relationships, let alone help develop them from a young age. They’ve only been raised to study well, get a good job and earn well, so they can marry well just like how girls are nagged about grooming themselves or learning household chores to be able to manage their marital households.
Imagine, parents, especially dads, raising their sons now saying “you better learn to manage the cook properly or you better learn to manage your emotions better, else slim chance you’ll find a good wife”.
That would be a revolution.
As a society, unless we emphasise the need for men to develop new skills for making themselves valuable in potential relationships (whether it’s marriage or not), marriages will die.
Sure, men have learnt to cook, clean or change diapers, but we have a long way to go in terms of proactive household management or childcare. At least we need men taking over households and childcare end to end in the same numbers as households where women bring in more money than men (if that’s any metric at all).
I will acknowledge that women are part of the problem too, because we nestle in the comfort of our conditioning and prefer to suffer silently, or complain than change.
In fact this reluctance to change is not just among men, there are also women who do not have careers, but want a husband who will not only bring home an income, but will also offer everything else on a platter without the wife having to bat an eyelid.
That’s unreasonable too, and unfortunately, they find out the hard way either in the marriage market, or at some point in their marriages.
Bottom line is this - a relationship, much like trade, will only exist as long as its fair. By definition, all trades are fair - if they were unfair, then there would be no trade. It is the same with marriages - if the “trade” is not fair, then there will be no marriage.
Marriage as an institution is based on fair economic trade, so it is upto both the man and the woman to make sure it’s fair to themselves and the other person. Given that our individual lives have evolved so much over the years, the institution of marriage must also evolve, and do so rapidly, else it will collapse.
Before I go, I will leave you with a comic, and a couple of related old posts:
More from Shapely Gal:
Was recently featured in MintLounge for my comments on “dating fatigue”.
ChatGPT and me: As a belated birthday present, my husband built me a Marriage Broker Auntie bot, which provides relationship advice having learnt my voice from this very newsletter. Cool, huh? I started testing the bot to check how much the responses align with my human views and style, and will share the results shortly. If you have any question requests, you can leave them in the comments below before this weekend, so I can include them in my testing.
What I’d reading/ writing/ watching/ listening to:
Irugapatru’s Social Experiment: One of my friends recommended that I watch this new Tamil movie on Netflix called Irugapatru, which I intend to watch. While watching its trailer, I found a link to a social experiment this movie team conducted, and I thought it was a very cool experiment. It’s amazing to share the eye opening moment about the state of their marriages, that these couples have by the end of the experiment.
Turkey Travel Diary: After a month long travel writing hiatus, I wrote on lifeofpri about an old trip to Turkey. Also, a journalist friend told me that my travel writing has been reading quite well, it felt nice to get some compliments/ validation.
Documentary Addiction: I’ve been on a documentary watching spree. The few I’ve watched in the last one week:
Shapely Gal song: New Rules by Dua Lipa
P.S. If you’re interested in estimating the gender-labour gap, I can share the excel if you’d like to repeat the exercise for your household (or not) ;)