research institute for compassionate economics

Gender, social disadvantage, and happiness: Women’s emotion labor in Indian families

This study documents and contextualizes a new puzzle about reported happiness among married women using data from India, a large developing country with severe gender discrimination. Gender inequality has been widely documented in India. For example, prior studies show that women have less education and less decision-making power than men. Upon marriage, young women typically move to their husband’s homes and assume low status roles in which they are expected to cook for, clean up after, and care for their husbands and in-laws. Qualitative research suggests that women who move into joint households with in-laws experience more stress than those who are married to the household head. We use World Health Organization’s 2007-08 Survey of Global AGEing and Adult Health (SAGE) data to document gaps in self-reported happiness between men and women in India. We further use ordered logit regression to explore whether women’s relationship to household head matters for their self-reported happiness. While the quantitative and ethnographic literature has found that women are objectively disadvantaged relative to men, we find that women are more likely to report being happy than men are. Regression results show that women who are daughters-in-law of the head of household are more likely to report happiness than those who are the wife of the household head. We posit that women’s happiness advantage may be explained by their roles as service workers in their families. Young married women in India, especially those who live with parents-in-laws, may feel more compelled to perform happiness for and in their families, despite objective disadvantage.

Published: Working Paper       Geography: India
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