Indian adults almost universally say it is important for women to have the same rights as men, including eight in ten who say it is very important. At the same time, however, there are circumstances where Indians believe men should be given preferential treatment: 80% agree that “when there are few jobs, men should have more employment rights than women,” according to a new report from the Pew Research Center.
The report, based on a face-to-face survey of 29,999 Indian adults conducted between late 2019 and early 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic, examines how Indians perceive gender roles at home and in society in general. The survey, which also served as the basis for a 2021 survey report on religion in indiawas conducted by local investigators in 17 languages and covered almost all states and union territories of India.
Here are the main findings of the report.
The Pew Research Center conducted this analysis to find out how Indians perceive gender roles in families and society. It is based on the March 2022 report”How Indians view gender roles in families and societyand is part of the most comprehensive and in-depth exploration of Indian public opinion to date. For this report, we surveyed 29,999 Indian adults 18+ living in 26 Indian states and three union territories. The sample included interviews with 22,975 Hindus, 3,336 Muslims, 1,782 Sikhs, 1,011 Christians, 719 Buddhists, 109 Jains, and 67 respondents who belonged to another religion or had no religious affiliation. Many survey results in India have already been published in “Religion in India: tolerance and segregationwhich examined in detail the religious and national identity, religious beliefs and practices, and attitudes of religious communities. The survey also included several questions on gender roles in Indian society, but these questions were not analyzed in the previous report and are now published for the first time. Interviews for this nationally representative survey were conducted face-to-face in 17 languages from November 17, 2019 to March 23, 2020.
Respondents were selected using a probability-based sampling design that would allow robust analysis of all major religious groups in India, as well as all major regional areas. The data was weighted to account for different probabilities of selection among respondents and to align with the demographic benchmarks of the Indian adult population from the 2011 Census.
International survey data referenced in this analysis can be found at the following links: 2019 Global Attitudes Survey, 2015 Global Attitudes Survey, Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America. The methodology of each survey can also be found via these links.
Indians widely accept women as political leaders. India has a long history of women holding political power, dating back to the 1966 election Indira Ghandione of the world’s first female prime ministers, to other well-known personalities, such as Jayalalitha, Mamata Banerjee and Sushma Swaraj.
The survey results reflect this comfort with women in politics. Most adults say both women and men make good political leaders (55%) or that women generally do better managers than men (14%). Only a quarter of Indian adults believe that men tend to make better political leaders than women.
While most Indians say men and women should share some family responsibilities, many still support traditional gender roles. For example, 62% of adults say both men and women should be responsible for looking after children, while around a third of adults (34%) believe childcare should be given primarily to women. Similarly, a slim majority (54%) say both men and women in families should be responsible for earning money, but many Indians (43%) see this as a predominantly male obligation.
Meanwhile, almost nine in ten Indians (87%) totally or mostly agree that “a wife should always obey her husband”. This includes a majority of Indians (64%) who fully agree with this sentiment. Women are only slightly less likely than men to say that wives should obey their husbands in all situations, and most Indian women express complete agreement with this sentiment (61% vs. 67% among men). (Throughout this report, the differences in opinion between men and women are modest. In other words, Indian women are generally not much more likely than Indian men to express egalitarian opinions about gender roles.)
An overwhelming majority of Indian adults say it is very important for families to have both sons and daughters, and a substantial share accept sex-selective abortion. The Indians are unanimous in considering that it is very important for a family to have at least one son (94%) and, separately, a daughter (90%). Historically, in Indian society, however, families have tended to give more value to their sons than their daughters, a custom commonly referred to as “son preference.” A persistent manifestation of son preference has been the illegal practice of sex-selective abortions – using ultrasound or other tests to find out the sex of a fetus and terminate the pregnancy if the fetus is female.
Survey finds four in ten Indians say it is ‘completely acceptable’ or ‘fairly acceptable’ to ‘get a health check using modern methods to balance the number of girls and boys in the family’ , a euphemism that evokes sex. selective abortion. In contrast, around half of adults (53%) say the practice is somewhat or completely unacceptable.
Most Indians (63%) say sons should be primarily responsible for parents’ last rites or funeral rituals, although attitudes differ widely across religious groups. Religious funeral practices for loved ones are widely considered very important in India, and at least according to Hindu tradition, the sons must perform the last rites for a parent to secure the freedom of the soul in the afterlife.
Most Muslims (74%), Jains (67%) and Hindus (63%) say sons should be primarily responsible for funeral rituals, but far fewer Sikhs (29%), Christians (44%) and Buddhists (46%) expect it. of sons. (Muslims and Christians were asked about “funeral rituals,” while all other respondents were asked about “last rites.”) Instead, Sikhs, Christians, and Buddhists are more likely to say that sons and daughters should be responsible for the last rites. Very few Indians, regardless of religion, say girls should be primarily responsible for funeral rituals.
Muslims are more likely than other Indians to support traditional gender roles in families, while Sikhs are often the community least likely to hold such views. For example, while most Indian Muslims (61%) say the men in a family should be primarily responsible for earning money, only 17% of Sikhs say this. And Muslims are more than twice as likely as Sikhs to give their sons primary responsibility for caring for their aging parents (43% vs. 17%).
Indians prefer to teach boys to respect women as a means of improving women’s safety. As described in a previous Pew Research Center Report, about three-quarters of Indian adults (76%) say that violence against women is a “very big problem” in their country. Police cases recorded as ‘crimes against women’ nearly double between 2010 and 2019and the rapes and murders of women led to massive protests across India. The survey asked respondents which of two options was more important to improving the safety of women in their community: teaching boys to respect all women or teaching girls to behave appropriately.
About half of Indians (51%) say it is more important to teach boys to respect all women, while about a quarter (26%) say it is more important to teach girls to behave appropriately. A further quarter of Indian adults do not take a clear position between these two options, expressing instead that a combination of the two approaches is needed, that improving law and order through the police will improve the situation or that women are already safe.
Compared to people in other countries around the world, Indians have relatively traditional views on gender roles. Although Indian adults are roughly in line with the global median in their support for equal rights for women by two other measures, the Indian public appears to be much more conservative, according to a series of other surveys by the Center in recent years.
Only one of the 61 countries surveyed has a higher proportion of adults than India who fully agree that men should have more job rights than women when jobs are scarce. And only two of the 34 countries surveyed exceed India in the proportions that say a marriage is more satisfying if the husband supports the family and the wife takes care of the home and the children. On this question, the percentage of Indians who share this opinion (40%) is well above the world median (23%).
jonathan evans is a research associate specializing in religion research at the Pew Research Center.