Rigid Gender Roles Prevent Indian Women From Buying Insurance
Indian women are not buying insurance for themselves, and the reason lies in how they perceive their value to society.
Only 22 percent of working women, out of a source pool of 4,566 respondents, said that their life was insured, as opposed to 83 percent of working men, according to “India Protection Quotient,” released by Max Life Insurance. The report found that women tended to invest their income into their kids’ education and marriage, and into vacations for the family, instead of protecting their income.
“Women in India have traditionally not seen themselves as the providers of the primary ‘bread and butter’ of the household, but rather of the ‘jam,’ and hence their financial protection has taken a back seat,” said Aalok Bhan, director and chief marketing officer at Max Life Insurance. “This is more a cultural issue, but times are changing and increasingly, we will hope to see women play a more significant role in the family’s financial planning and contribute to the overall protection of the family.”
When asked about having life insurance, preschool teacher Asha Rajesh Thakur, 52, spoke as if the thought of buying it for herself had never occurred to her. “There isn’t much need for life insurance for me,” said Thakur, who has a husband and three kids. “I use my salary for my own things. [If I weren’t here anymore], financially, there won’t be any difference in my home.”
This attitude stems from the norm that a person must have a certain level of income to get insured, according to Rajeev Swaika, an insurance broker based out of Kolkata. “Most of the women still don’t have enough income, or they have no income. The husband may be working and doing very well, but the women end up without insurance.”
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What goes unnoticed, however, is the woman’s contribution to her family in the form of unpaid house and care work. For example, urban women spend 312 minutes each day on unpaid carework — everything from cooking to cleaning to child and elder care — while urban men spend only 29. If this work were paid, it would account for 3.1 percent of India’s Gross Domestic Product. In not valuing the import of this work, rigidly gendered societal norms influence women’s thinking, and their perception of themselves and their contribution to their family.
“I’m a housewife. What happens when I can’t do the work?” asked Nikita Desai, 47, who has insured herself in multiple ways. “If I’m bedridden for six months, what about my work that doesn’t get done for six months? Then I have to get a maid and pay her.”
“So what if I’m not earning? If I’m bedridden, or if I die, the house has to keep a maid, a cook. These policies can cover that,” added Desai, who cares for a daughter, her husband, and his family.
Even if a woman is earning as much or more than her husband does, in most families, she doesn’t take financial decisions for the household. Therefore, her insurance is overshadowed, Sanjay Panchal, insurance agent, said. “When I call them, they ask us to talk to their husbands. And then the male ends up planning for himself.”
Women tend not to speak openly about their finances, according to a survey conducted by investment firm Fidelity Investments. “Money Fit Women Study” found that 56 percent of women surveyed thought their finances were too personal to discuss. Women don’t feel comfortable talking money, in part because they weren’t raised to do so, the firm found. 60 percent of women also reported worrying about not having enough money to last through retirement, the survey showed. And rightfully so: in India, 14 percent of elderly women have no income, and are less likely to be employed than elderly men, according to The Wire.
With an unequal gender pay gap, abysmally fewer opportunities for paid work for women, and low financial literacy among Indian women, the deck is seemingly stacked against women’s independent financial security. Unfortunately, the same forces that drive this inequity, also keep women from the very thing that could provide protection against it.