Saturday, September 08, 2007

Gender difference in US-based Indians' desire to return to India

Sharath Rao has a friend with an interesting point of view:

... [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.

I think there is some validity in the stuff about women's sense of greatly expanded independence in the West. I remember a fellow Indian post-doc (who, it so happens, did her PhD from IISc) that I met in Paris; she was absolutely categorical in saying that the independence she enjoyed there was too important for her to think about returning to India. She said, "Back home, I can't go home after 9:00 p.m. without my neighbours giving me suspicious looks and and some in my own family asking me questions."

I also recall a Pittsburgh couple who returned to India despite the wife's wishes to stay in the US (alas, I don't know her reasons); their marriage didn't last long after that (and, to complicate matters, the guy is back in the US after his second marriage!).

So, that's two more data points for Sharath's friend's. But we remember what we are primed to remember. Also, we remember what sticks out, sometimes at the expense of the mundane and the ordinary: I live in a place with tons of people who returned from abroad (and who keep shuttling back and forth!), and they all seem to enjoy being here. Thus, I get the feeling that while there may indeed be a skew in one's desire to stay on in the West, this skew is probably small.

In any case, Sharath is looking for counterexamples to his friend's thesis. If you know of any, go to his blog and leave a comment.