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psc brown bag iconPower and Priorities: Gender, Caste, and Household Bargaining in India

Nancy Luke (Department of Sociology, Brown University)

10/16/2012, Tuesday, noon, 6050

Archived video available.

A dramatic rise in women’s labor force participation has occurred in industrialized countries in the last half-century, and scholars have been interested in how women’s entry into the public sphere impacts gender relations in the household. Three separate literatures have employed bargaining power, or relative resources, theory to gain leverage on this question, including research on resource allocation within the household, intimate partner violence, and the domestic division of labor. Despite this common bargaining framework, these three bodies of scholarship remain distinct in their theoretical and empirical applications. A further limitation is that much of the research treats women’s experiences as homogeneous; there are few comparative studies of women’s bargaining power across social groups, such as race, ethnicity, or class. India serves as a particularly interesting site to examine women’s bargaining power given the increased access to wage labor that has occurred during the contemporary period of globalization and liberalization. Furthermore, the Indian caste system continues to stratify society, with the lowest castes—and lower caste women in particular—experiencing the poorest development outcomes. This study uses data collected from female tea plantation workers in South India to examine the effects of women’s earnings across multiple household domains and how these processes differ by caste. Results show that lower caste women use their earnings to prioritize savings and sons’ and daughters’ education at a cost to their own well-being in terms of physical violence and lower male participation in housework. In contrast, higher caste women’s earnings have little effect on these domains, suggesting that they do not challenge male authority within the household. Taken together, these findings provide a more complete picture of household dynamics and underscore the potential for women’s earnings to help narrow persistent caste inequalities in India.


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