Governing Dynamics of Intra-household Bargaining Relations in Informal Urban Spaces: Reflections from the Case of Female Domestic Workers Across India
Mainstream neo-classical economics studying the economics of family and households still assumes a common utility and demand function, while accounting for the material well-being of members in any given household/family. This approach has been widely critiqued in recent years, particularly in understanding the intra-household, gendered relations between women and men and the extent of their independent bargaining power towards household decision making and other areas of preference satisfaction. This chapter, focusing on the urban informal economy in India, aims to analyze the socio-economic position of women-working as domestic help workers (in urban households)-to cognize their relative bargaining power (i.e. their preference in decision-making abilities) in their own respective household arrangements. Most women working as domestic help workers, are rarely included in any framework of analysis that attempts to objectively study their social and economic position in the household. This is because most domestic workers are often seen as part of an invisible work force (outside the formal accountable measures in employment statistics), thereby, making it difficult for undertaking any detailed analytical enquiry. The study through primary interviews seeks to: (a) highlight the role of some key variables and factors involved in shaping a woman’s intra-household bargaining level; (b) isolate role of intra-household (i.e. inside her household) and extra-household features (i.e. outside her household), involved in affecting a female domestic help worker’s bargaining power and her decision-making preference in household spending allocation, fertility choice, her child’s education and her child’s marriage. These aspects are examined using observational results from a randomized sample of personal interviews of female domestic help workers across urban cities in India, involving detailed inter-personal oral conversations. The findings of the study emphasize on a greater need to incorporate the role of extra-household factors (say, social status of family of domestic help-workers, migration into the cities, informal status of the group and ideological perspectives of the family-to cite a few) into a woman’s intra-household bargaining power, while going beyond usual variables reflecting the status of her material well-being (i.e. in terms of income earned from domestic help-work, access to property etc.).
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