Urban women want a career more than a family
On a cold winter evening, 32-year-old Richa Mehta is making her way home from work when her phone rings. She shoves it into her bag and slumps deep into the auto seat, choosing to stare at the traffic instead. It wails monotonously for a couple of more minutes before dying. She sighs. “It is my aunt. She wants me to meet someone.” Mehta explains, that her family, like most Indian families has been cornering her to get married. “They have been circling me forever. But honestly, I don’t feel the need to. I have a career that I love and the life that I need. I don’t understand why it is so important that I marry.” Talking to her family who lives in Bilahi, Uttar Pradesh, about the subject has not helped either as they think it is a temporary phase that she will eventually snap out of. “I now turn a deaf ear. I don’t think they understand why ambition is so important to me. They think it is unnatural. But not everyone was meant to be domesticated. I like my life the way it is.” Mehta who works at least 50 hours a week says that by the time she is done with her job, she is too exhausted to care about anything else. “A good day for me would be if I get home by 9. Then I can maybe meet my friends. Although I do end up spending most weekdays alone,” she says. She has never been in a serious relationship, “most men cannot deal with my ambition. They see it as a threat and selfishness. Sure, it’s really sexy in the beginning, but by the end of it, these very reasons become contentious in relationships.” Does that make her bitter? “Not at all. Nobody has time for that,” she laughs.
The fact that an increasing number of urban women in India value career and financial independence more than a marriage might seem surprising, but it is not unlikely. According to a study that seeks to understand the modern woman, by the ad agency JWT states that women in India are more career driven than their peers, say in China and Indonesia. According to census data 71 million women in India are currently single. This is a marked 39 per cent increase from the previous years. Out of this number, 23 percent (16.9 million) are in the age bracket of 20-24, indicating that the age of marriage has certainly shifted. Market research firm IMRB reports that among urban women in India, the average income increased by 111 per cent between 2001 and 2010. This increase isn’t just improving the lives of individual women and households, it’s also empowering women to contribute in an increasingly significant way to the growth of India’s economy: Everstone Capital projects that women as consumers will make India 25 per cent richer by 2025. 2015 McKinsey Global Institute Report too states that Indian women have the potential to add $2.9 trillion to the economy, if given an equal opportunity in the work force. “Women’s empowerment is an absolute economic no-brainer…Empowering women boosts economic growth. For example, we have estimates that, if the number of female workers were to increase to the same level as the number of men, GDP would expand by 27 percent in India,” said Christine Lagarde Managing director, International Monetary Fund last year.
By 2018, a third of internet users in India will be women. The increasing financial independence of women has naturally made them an important target consumer across segments. Although, according to a study by Nielsen India two years ago, 92 per cent of working women and 84 per cent of non-working women in the urban areas claimed to play a role in the financial decisions of their household. The sales numbers match these figures. As of last year, Max Life Insurance Co. Ltd had a consumer base of 28 per cent females, a marked increased as compared to the mere 15 per cent of the previous years. The company has also been actively targeting women consumers for the very reason. HDFC is another such company that prefers women consumers due to their low default rate.
Women in the country are more than willing to pitch in. Out of one in every two women surveyed in India last year said that they wanted to buy a house or car in the next five years. Take for instance, 32-year-old Shweta Sharma, financial analyst with a global firm who takes care of her father’s investments. “I have been investing on his behalf for the last two years and he is thrilled. We just brought a flat in the hills and we’ve split the mortgage 60-40. I have a younger sister and my parents are getting old. I have to stand up and pitch in. It is only fair,” she says. And she is not the only one helping her parents out. 24-year-old software engineer Tanvi Shukla has been working ever since she graduated two years ago in order to realise her dream of working abroad. “I am going to work until 25 and then co-sign a loan with my father for my MBA. I will pay it off as soon as I start working again,” she says. “I also pay the electricity, internet and water bill at home. I don’t even think this is such a big deal. If the whole idea is to be independent. Then it has to start with being responsible for your financial needs. There is simply no other way.”