When expectations of marriage and family shift, what does it mean for migrants?
I wrote a while ago about the rapid transformations post 1990s in young people’s expectations of what a marriage ought to be, what a household should consist of, and what constitutes a good family life. Kerala’s men these days are under pressure to act not only as breadwinners (which has long been the case in this state where women have low workforce participation and where a non-working wife is a component of masculine and family status) but also as good and present husbands and fathers.
Here’s a news media report on a phenomenon that all those of us who are working on Kerala projects for REALM are finding: the longstanding Gulf bridegroom ‘migrant’s premium’ in dowry and marriage chances has reversed into a migrant’s liability and lower-status on the marriage market.
As one of my long-term respondents, age 17, put it to me, when her family began the hunt for a suitable boy: “I don’t want my mother’s life. Even if he earns less, we should be together”.
Some young women are telling me that they hope to get educated in practical, employable fields which would then enable them to work in the Gulf and set up a household there. Some hope to work in Kerala, allowing them to marry lower-earning men who would also stay back. But some maintain that still the only way to manage to get the money together to build a home and raise a family is the (by now traditional) way: for the husband to work in the Gulf, while wife and kids live – at cheaper cost – in Kerala.
As school fees, taxes and accommodation costs continue to rise across the Gulf region, many families who had been living together have made the decision to send either the children or both wife and children home.
As I analyse the 90 interviews I did, I’ll be looking out for the possibility of patterns in these opinions. Can we say anything about who might still be pinning their family aspirations on Gulf, who might be feeling confident about life in Kerala, and which women aspire to become working mothers rather than what remains for the majority the ‘respectable’ and expected path: that of full-time home-makers?