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Staying back in US – men and women September 7, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, contemplation, life.
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In a conversation with a good friend of mine (Male, 26 yrs, in the US for over 2 years), we were talking about a common friend’s marriage announcement. I then asked him about his own plans of getting married. He said he would like to hold it for a while and the reason he gave went along these lines.

He said that he would like to return to India within the next 5 years and getting married will hamper those plans. Apparently, in his experience Indian women are more likely than men to want to stay back in the US. Even when entire families have stayed back, its because the wives, irrespective of being employed here or otherwise, have insisted on this. Although my friend has no data to back this claim, he has tens of examples to show and few, if any, counter-examples.

As I listened he went to say that if one were to compare the marginal improvement in quality of life (India vs. US) for men and women, women get a better deal. Of course, whether there is an overall improvement in quality of life is debatable. But lets say we have a pool of 2000 Indians – 1000 men and 1000 women – who already claim that they see a better future for themselves in the US compared to India, and then see how much that improvement is, women have more to show. In particular, the independence, self-expression and freedom from harassment, from colleagues at workplace and from in-laws and extended family at home, are factors that dominate the reasons women have to insist on ‘settling’ down in the US.

Now I am a feminist, not the sloganeering/activist/street-fighting type, but of a passive, private variety – so I would love to see counterexamples. Yet, as I mentally sorted through people I knew, I found that in each case the above hypothesis held. Now this still does not mean the theory itself holds. But what has your experience been ? What about people you know ?

Update : A follow-up post based on your comments is here.

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Comments»

1. ruhi - September 7, 2007

I’m an Indian and have been in the US since the last two years. But I’m a graduate student..a career woman, if you will. So, I don’t know about an average “house wife”. But I keep having conflicting feelings in this matter. There are times when I want to go back to India. These feelings generally arise when I meet my family or think too much about them. Careerwise, I would love to stay here forever. I’m much more inclined to go back than my fiancee. He’s a graduate student too and cringes at the thought of going back. Every time I tell him that we should consider going back after a couple of years, he gets a little impatient and wants to end the topic.

so, in my case, it’s the opposite 🙂 How do you feel about going back to India? I noticed that you haven’t mentioned that in your post.

2. Sharath Rao - September 8, 2007

Thanks for comment, Ruhi.

I am starting to count up – that makes it – 1.

This is typical -“These feelings generally arise when I meet my family or think too much about them.” …but its our sentiments on average rather than at extreme that eventually proves decisive.

3. Achala - September 8, 2007

The women I know in the US (both of them) are staying put. One for career reasons, and the other for all the above mentioned reasons (…independence…)
I know someone in UK who keeps telling her husband let’s go back to India, because she misses her family, and because she wants her (future) kids to be brought up close to family. Of course, she’s only been overseas only for a few months now, so homesickness is still a factor. I’m waiting to see what she’ll say a few months from now, when she starts working and gets accustomed to the place.

You didn’t answer ruhi’s q. …

4. natasha - September 8, 2007

Good one! I think the benefits to both men and women in the US are the same ( we have the same economic and social opportunities once here) … I wouldn’t say I’ve escaped some sort of cage in India and come to the US… my female peers in India are doing equally well for themselves with traveling aboard frequently on company projects , monetary independence and some of them have put off marriage as well… ( but I wonder how many of them can stay like me or my friends in the US –alone ,single ,in an apartment , how does this work in a PG situation back home ).
Personally , having spent most of my life outside india , the question of which place I call home is iffy, I’ve also gone through the whole male family member decides to move back with family to India after 25 years abroad thing ….. also I made a conscious decision to move to the US, I wasn’t forced….so people shouldn’t assume I’m in someway waiting to go back home to India…. I don’t know which country I’ll be in 20-30 years down the line , but it would seem like wasted effort going back after 2-5 years.

-Natasha

5. ggop - September 8, 2007

As Natasha puts it things have changed – my own sister lived with roommates in Bangalore for a bit and now rents a flat on her own. This level of independence was unheard of when I graduated and my peers looked for a job in big cities like Mumbai.

In my limited friend circle, very independent women who are vocal and not demure are willing to move back to India. The Stepford-wife type women actually want to stay back in the US.

6. Vishnu - September 9, 2007

I know nothing about female mentality, and being in US for only 1 yr I haven’t been able to form any opinion about returning back to INDIA or staying here. However the responses from other females here are interesting to note.

However here are a few links I came across and I wish to share
http://www.caip.rutgers.edu/~rishi/text/Syndrome.html
http://www.qsl.net/vu2sro/a_long_letter_to_an_nri.html
http://www.nriol.com/content/articles/article76.html

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9. Sailatha Srini - September 9, 2007

ggop, you are talking of unmarried women. Married women DO face a lot more familial pressure in India than abroad. And when they have lived abroad for a while and gotten used to the independence, it gets very unbearable when parents-in-law or parents keep butting into their life, wanting to know where they have been, or what they were doing.
Yes, I agree that women these days don’t take it too seriously and get on with life despite these irritants, but rest assured, the irritants are very real. And it does use up a lot of energy fending off such annoyances; precious energy that you would, abroad, be using to actually achieve something useful.
So, count me on the other side, Sharath. I live in India now after seven years abroad.

10. Supreeth Kini - September 9, 2007

Reasons for staying back are numerous….while our friend (I know who he is) might delay his marriage to stay back, some of my acquaintances (from a neighbouring south indian state) stay back to improve their marriageability.
Even I have observed that the Indian females tend to wish to stay back. A colleague of mine had a solution to deal with this situation in his own life….he rented a movie about teenage schooling in US, showed it to his wife, and they were flying back to india at the next available opportunity….apparently the movie was about dating, drugs and other “teenage problems” in the US of A and my colleague’s wife was carrying.

11. Aparna Vemuri - September 9, 2007

An important factor that has to be considered in the argument is the fact that women, who come to the US independently for education or career are more often than not raised by families that are supportive of their daughters’ careers and lifestyle choices. These kind of families are unlikely to cause problems to daughters, and (hopefully) daughter-in-law in the future. The women that come to the US from these kind of families would have always had the freedom of choice and living away from family doesn’t really enhance their lifestyle. Often, they consider career options and comfort of living while making a decision about staying abroad or going back to India.

The class of women that come to the US on dependent visa after marriage are the ones that experience sudden freedom, self-expression and independence. These are the kind of women that would want to stay abroad considering purely these factors.

12. Sailatha Srini - September 9, 2007

Aparna, I do not fully agree on the first paragraph. It is worse for women who come from supportive families but get married into conservative families. Their upbringing is so different from their life with in-laws after returning that it is worse than women who were always dependent on someone or the other.

13. ggop - September 9, 2007

Sailatha,
I agree with you that married women have lot more pressure. I also agree with your reply above. A lot depends on the in laws family.

And Supreeth – off topic but the expression “Indian females” is really weird in this context. Why not use “Indian women”? This lingo is used only by Indians as if its a biology lesson about the human species where it would be appropriate 🙂

14. Supreeth Kini - September 9, 2007

@ggop, won’t you agree with me that “Indian Female” is a species in itself 🙂

(and so is Indian Male)

15. Joy - September 9, 2007

I have seen that women who make a conscious decision to come to the US..for grad studies, career etc are more reluctant to go back to their home country.

On the other hand, I have noticed more often than not that the women who move to the US ’cause their spouses are based here etc(I’m not saying this is not a conscious decision, but there is definitely a difference in the way the choices are made) are more than eager to pack their bags and leave for the home country.

Sharath, the question still hangs in the air: What’s your take on it? 🙂

16. THE_GIRL_FROM_IPANEMA - September 9, 2007

nice post – because it spawns off such a good discussion. I have lived in the US as a single woman (student) for six years now, and still counting. I have enjoyed my independence and freedom of expression here (as much as I did back home). I am pretty sure I want to go back to India in another 4-5 years, largely for emotional/ personal reasons (never feel like I will fit in the american lifestyle blah) and well aware that I will have to make career-compromises and put up with daily leching and eve-teasing and staring. But I do know that if I continue to remain single after 4 – 5 years, I might choose to stay back abroad.

I will look forward to a synopsis/follow up post based on comments 🙂

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18. Mayuresh Gaikwad - September 10, 2007

Is not “Taking care of ageing parents” one of the reasons for ladies to move back to India (Assuming you are the one who will take care of them because you are the only child / one of “n” daughters / your brothers could not care less / you just want to do it as their child)

Again, this is a very peculiar problem because the parents would never want to come and stay in the US for the rest of their lives, they are too old for that. So it is either that the child goes back or the parents live their twilight years alone in the company of themselves.

19. Nitin - September 10, 2007

Sharath,

You are on the money. I’d go so far as to say that Indian society is very illiberal towards its women. So is the government: for instance, do you know why you don’t see waitresses in Indian restaurants? Well, because they’ll have to work past 8pm, but that’s against a law which protects them against crime by preventing them from working.

Material improvements apart, I would say that the intangible improvement (personal freedom, and ability for individual expression) plays a much bigger role in their decision.

20. Robert - September 10, 2007

Adding to indian women, gay men and women want to stay back in the West. The reason is the same, just a matter of degree.

21. Sheethal - September 10, 2007

I’m a grad student here , and every female AND male classmate I have wants to get back as soon as they have worked here for a couple of years to get their ROI. some of the females i know, have awesome entrepreneurial plans and refuse to marry anyone who might not want to go back, myself included. Ofcourse i cringe when i think bout my independence being curbed back home, but i think thats a small price to pay. I think that with the job market opening up, as in the quality of jobs and pay scales improving in India, most people no longer see it the way your friend describes it. Family would be the biggest reason i guess. The only way i could be biased is that i just got here and everyone ‘tells’ me that i’ll change my mind after a couple of years…. but i think career women now have got a gr8 deal of independence back home and are able to stand up for themselves much better… also have relatives where the lady insists on going back and the husband refuses to consider it.
I think one main reason ladies want to go back home is the kids(not my reasons). no one wants to bring up kids in this country and they have an amazing support structure at home for that.
but I’ll know only when I go back…

22. someone - September 10, 2007

I’m a telecom profeessional in the U.S. now for ~10 years. Came here to do my masters and find I still have dual feelings about returning to India Vs staying back here. Yes, though there is enough support if we do return back, there are still societal obligations and parental intrusions which are very real. Especially for women. But, in my family, I’m the one forcing us to think more about the option of returning back. My husband is happy enough to settle down here.

23. tabula rasa - September 10, 2007

count me in as a counterexample. my wife and i are both academics with phds from a top american school, and she would like to go back to india while i’m fairly confident that unless the research environment there in my field changes drastically, i don’t really have a place there. she, otoh, might even have returned already if i weren’t in the picture.

24. Sharath Rao - September 11, 2007

@mayuresh :

Yes, thats a factor too ….I mentioned your point in my follow up post about aged parents.

@Nitin : I remember reading that in the aftermath of call center related rape /kidnapping cases …the usual over-reaction/refusal to tackle real issues…. …although I thought the Karnataka govt. had withdrawn that clause …

@robert : I guess you are right …there are several issues that, but for the degree, are the same.

@ tabula rasa – I see your point – I think overall the more advanced degree one has, the lower is the overall likelihood of returning, which of course will might vary across disciplines, but may not be gender dependent.

@sheetal – As you warned yourself, it might be prudent to wait a little while (1-2 yrs) before being really sure. Especially – “every female AND male classmate I have wants to get back as soon as they have worked here for a couple of years to get their ROI.”

you too would agree that is really bold. 🙂 . Lets reassess the situation in say, Dec 2008.

As for the kids example, there are also, what might seem to you as being rather ironical cases, where after having visited an Indian families based in the US for a while (and interacting with the kids) , people decide that they *want* to raise kids here.

25. Revathi - September 11, 2007

A lot of women are in the US because of their spouses. I dont know what percentage of these women really have a choice. I guess you interviewed those that had a choice.

26. Supreeth Kini - September 11, 2007

Some more fuel to the topic – from economic times website today http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/2357681.cms

“Most young Indian couples preferred to return to India to protect their kids from the Western culture and to educate them in Indian atmosphere,” he said

27. Sharath Rao - September 11, 2007

@supreeth – yeah, that is one of the major reasons why people return…

@revathi – why they are here is only a part of the question ….and its not whether they have a choice …but whether their opinion/say in matters has any weight ..which there is …relatively few husbands would force the family to move back if the wife is really opposed to it ….

28. Maverick - September 14, 2007

I think i have to agree, leave apart the housewives this is even true in case of working women in India. Even if they are sharing the financial responsibilities equally, Their share in family responsibilities has always been a bit more. I’m an optimist and i’d like to believe tht women aren’t really unhappy of this fact as long as they have a supportive husband. But then the world’s not perfect and u do see sexual exploitation.

29. sammy - October 7, 2007

i’ve thought about this for a while, and here’s my $0.02

“indian women” who came to the US would have to be divvied into 2 categories … those who came here recently (3-4 yrs max) and the rest…

the ones who were here earlier saw a very different india, there was no real ‘boom’ per se, so life in the US offered a lot more advantages. Even for those who came on a ‘dependent visa’, life sucked just a wee bit (until they got the green card / work permit), but then all was cool again.

those who came recently have witnessed something very different, a more confident, more open india – so they would be more willing to make a move either way… even current jobs in india would allow (rather insist) them to be global in location and approach…

life for women in the US, per se, is also a bit of a glass ceiling thing – it’s taken over two centuries for the nation to have even a chance for a Woman President, India (heck, even Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Phillipines, Pakistan) have had women at the helm for years now…

but, but, but … an entire generation of women in india grew up on feminist leanings, wanting to do ‘something’ just because ‘men’ were allowed to do it (or not, mutatis mutandis)…. so, in that aspect, the newer generation (age upto 27) have a better and broader perspective – and were really more fortunate… the ‘seniors’, especially those in their early to mid 30s, are rather lost … life in the US is great, up to a point – independence has its virtues… but once you have kids and the whole ‘family’ rigamarole, things seem different…

so, i would add ‘Age’ to the hypothesis – either true age, or age, as in, time spent in the US – a clearer pattern might emerge thence…

30. HK - October 16, 2007

makes sense

31. B - November 27, 2007

I find Aparna’s post to be right on the money. I’m probably the living example of the type of woman she’s described in her first paragraph.

I’ve been in the US for about 4 years now. And having “been here, done that”, I’m finding myself increasingly inclined to return to India.

Lots of factors – family, social circle, that constant feeling of this country not being where I can truly be ‘myself’ (I know that most of us have to ‘reinvent’ ourselves to some extent each and every day, to somehow try and fit into the American way of life).

My point is, I agree that Indian women who’ve been raised in a family with a liberal attitude, find it much easier to visualize themselves being back in India. The minuses (lack of independence, for example) were never much of an issue anyway, and the easy familiarity of being in one’s home country just cannot be had, over here.

I also find that work options here are limited at best – but then, I’m speaking from the perspective of a H1b visa holder. It took me donkey’s ears to even land a job (1 year to be precise, and even then not in the area of my choice). I’d be more than willing to return to India to work, given that these days there ARE good jobs and good payscales.

Sure, being a woman, I’d have to go through the usual issues at the workplace. Yes, the Indian mentality is still strongly focused on taking a pedantic, almost overbearing approach to things. But still, all said and done, it’s after the workday ends that your own life begins ;-).

All in all, the decision to return to India is based on what awaits a person over there. Career-wise and personally. If the kind of education you have and the work you do is conducive to getting a decent-paying job back home, it wouldn’t be so difficult to reutrn.
In the same token, having a family and social circle that is warm, respectful of your likes and dislikes, and supportive, is a definite plus point.

32. Sharath Rao - November 28, 2007

@B : Thanks for your comment…

I personally relate to much that you have mentioned and see your point too. I am happy this post has gone some way in collating a reasonably diverse set of opinions out there.

“But still, all said and done, it’s after the workday ends that your own life begins ;-).”

That was the sentence of the day !

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