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Dual-Earner Families - Asia And The Middle East

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In general, few Asian nuclear households can actually be considered dual-earner families. When married women work for pay, it is usually because their husbands are working in marginal jobs, and the family needs the extra income to survive (Kim 1997; Saso 1990). Research in Asia suggests that the majority of women value being a housewife, as this status coincides with wealth. This value fits well with the traditional beliefs about women in Asia, where women's loyalty is presumed to be solely to their husbands and children (Kim 1997; Lewis et al. 1992; Saso 1990). When women work for pay because husbands are unable to support the family solely, it is not expected that this would significantly change the balance of power or the division of labor. When asked, these employed women say that they should be in charge of the home, and their husbands should not necessarily share the work in the house. Stigma exists against wives who work for money; they are often accused of neglecting their husbands and children. Some evidence suggests that an increasing number of women in dual-earner families feel the burden is unfair (Kim 1997; Saso 1990).

Local governments in some Japanese and Singaporean cities provide day nurseries for poor families, at times with most of the cost absorbed (Lewis et al. 1992; Saso 1990). Commentators continually call for more part-time work for mothers and flexibility in mothers' work schedules rather than for increased participation of husbands and fathers in household work and childcare (Saso 1990). Research on dual-earner Singaporean families shows that, as elsewhere, fathers spend considerably less time with their children and on housework than do mothers (Lewis et al. 1992). Also as elsewhere, the greater his participation in childcare, the more the husband is likely to support his wife's employment (Wang 1992).

In the 1980s, many middle-class to lower middle-class Middle Eastern women became part of dual-earner families against their husbands' wishes because of dire economic need. Many men in Arabic societies would prefer to take two or three jobs to keep wives out of paid labor. Although the husbands may disapprove, the women report their positive economic contribution to the household as well as the financial security for their family for the long term. Many Middle Eastern Arabic women work in spite of the prevailing ideology supporting patriarchal families, which promotes selflessness for women in their marriages, men's sole providership, and husbands as head of the family. When spouses both work for pay despite believing in an ideology that supports male dominance, female selflessness, and women's role as restricted to family life, both wives and husbands experience internal distress. Since the mid-1980s, however, the number of Middle Eastern dual-earner families has been on the decline (Ghorayshi 1996; Redclift and Sinclair 1991).

Due to inflation, it is difficult in urban India for a couple to lead comfortable lives unless both spouses work; this family type is increasing because of economic necessity, rather than egalitarian ideals. Dual-earner lifestyles generally benefit women, but stress their husbands (Andrade; Postma; and Abraham 1999). Several researchers have found that employed and unemployed women in India did not differ in measures of psychological well-being (Mukhopadhyay, Dewanji, and Majumder 1993). Dual-earner wives reported greater freedom in certain parts of their lives, though their husbands still controlled financial matters. Employed wives still reported doing five times as much household work as their husbands did (Ramu 1989) and do not hold significantly less traditional attitudes than other women.

Between 1966 and 1989, the proportion of dual-earner families among married couples in Israel increased from 26 percent to 47 percent. Israeli cultural beliefs focus on motherhood as not simply a family role, but a role in providing additional citizens for the nation. The cultural assumption is that a woman will combine family and work, in that order (Lewis et al. 1992). Israeli women receive a double message as they are educated toward modern achievement-oriented values but also taught to have strong family-oriented norms and be responsible for household labor. Women, but not men, are expected to take time off from work for family needs. Both spouses in dual-earner families were found to report a higher quality of marital life and psychological well-being when compared to families where the husband is the only employed spouse (Frankel 1997).


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