Pew survey: Indians overwhelmingly think wives should ‘obey’ husbands

Pew Research Center surveyed 29,999 Indians for their views on gender roles in families and societies.

ByTanishka Sodhi
Pew survey: Indians overwhelmingly think wives should ‘obey’ husbands
Anis Wani
  • whatsapp
  • copy

Two-thirds of Indians “completely agree” that a wife must “always obey” her husband, and roughly one-third of adults feel childcare should be “primarily handled” by women.

These are some of the findings of a study by Pew Research Center on how Indians view gender roles in families and societies. The group surveyed 29,999 Indian adults in person between November 2019 and March 2020 across all states and union territories, except Manipur, Sikkim, Lakshadweep and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Additionally, fieldwork was not conducted in Kashmir “due to security concerns”.

The study found that most Indians believe that women and men make equally good political leaders – with more than one in 10 saying that women generally make “better political leaders” than men. But in domestic settings, those surveyed leaned towards men having more prominent roles than women.

Geography, to a large extent, influenced these attitudes. Those living in the southern states were more likely to have traditional attitudes towards familial responsibilities as compared to the Hindi belt – defined as 11 states and UTs including Jharkhand, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Chhattisgarh.

For instance, respondents in Tamil Nadu were twice as likely to say men should earn money in a family as compared to those in Jharkhand (55 percent versus 24 percent). Fifty-seven percent of respondents in Tamil Nadu said women should care for children, as against 26 percent in Jharkhand. Yet Tamil Nadu’s respondents were least likely to say a wife must obey her husband.

Kerala and Telangana stood out as having less conservative views on gender than their neighbours – 19 percent of respondents in Kerala and 16 percent in Telangana said men should make financial decisions for a family as compared to 39 percent in Karnataka. Meanwhile, 81 percent of those in Karnataka and 60 percent in Andhra Pradesh said sons should be responsible for a parent’s last rites, as against 40 percent in Kerala.

While Uttar Pradesh was among the most conservative states, the national capital territory of Delhi was at the other end of the spectrum.

Religious influence

Across several aspects of family life, the report found the following pattern: that Muslims are the most likely, and Sikhs the least likely, to support traditional gender roles.

Nearly 74 percent of Muslims said sons should be primarily responsible for a parent’s last rites or rituals. This sentiment was echoed by 67 percent of Jains, 63 percent of Hindus, 46 percent of Buddhists, 44 percent of Christians, and 29 percent of Sikhs.

Similarly, 61 percent of Muslims surveyed said men in a family should be primarily responsible for earning money; as did 44 percent of Hindus, 34 percent of Christians, 31 percent of Jains, 22 percent of Buddhists, and 17 percent of Sikhs.

Comparable patterns were observed for responses to women’s primary roles in childcare, sons caring for ageing parents, sons having a “greater right” to inheritance, and men in families being responsible for making decisions about expenses.

According to the survey, most Indian adults “do not believe abortion should generally be legal”. Adults who said religion was very important in their lives were more likely to say abortion should be illegal when compared to those for whom religion was less important (56 percent versus 47 percent).

Four out of 10 Indians found it either completely or somewhat acceptable to “get a checkup using modern methods to balance the number of girls and boys in the family” – a euphemism for sex-selective abortion. It was also found to be more acceptable among those who have had difficulty in purchasing food, medicine or housing for their families.

Interestingly, adults from general category castes were slightly more inclined than those from lower castes to see sex-selective abortion as acceptable (43 percent versus 39 percent). Respondents in the southern states and UTs were less likely to say abortion should be illegal. Six out of 10 respondents who voted for BJP in 2019 also said abortion should be illegal; while roughly half of those who voted for the Congress said the same.

Almost all respondents – 99 percent – said it’s somewhat important for families to have at least one son. But 99 percent also said it’s important to have at least one daughter.

India compared to global standards

Take this statement: “When jobs are scarce, men should have more rights to a job than women.”

Fifty-five percent of Indians surveyed agreed with it. Globally, a median of only 17 percent of respondents across 61 countries completely agreed with the statement. Only Tunisia recorded a higher share of people (64 percent) agreeing with the statement as compared to India.

Indians were also less likely to place high importance on men and women having the same rights when compared to respondents in North America, western Europe and Latin America.

In South Asia, Indians were more likely than Pakistanis to say that it is very important for men and women to have equal rights (72 percent versus 64 percent). A global median of 70 percent of people across 47 countries and territories said it is very important for women to have the same rights as men.

Almost a quarter of Indians (23 percent) said there is a lot of discrimination against women in their country, which is more than the number of people who think the same way about discrimination on the basis of religion or caste.

Respondents were asked which of the two options are more important to improve the safety of women in their community: teaching boys to respect all women or teaching girls to behave appropriately. Roughly half said that teaching boys is more important, while a quarter said teaching girls to behave appropriately is a better way to improve women's safety.

Also Read :
‘India is heaven for Muslims’: Why Zee News’s coverage of the Pew survey is disingenuous
newslaundry logo

Pay to keep news free

Complaining about the media is easy and often justified. But hey, it’s the model that’s flawed.


We take comments from subscribers only!  Subscribe now to post comments! 
Already a subscriber?  Login

You may also like