Gender Imbalance, Marriage Squeeze and Multiple Biological Clocks: Exploring Challenges to the Intergenerational Contract in North India
Keywords:Intergenerational Contract, Marriage Squeeze, Aging, Biological Clock
This paper maps the impact of gender imbalance on intergenerational relations in north India. It uses the idea of multiple biological clocks to understand the impact that gender imbalance and male marriage squeeze have on two categories of persons: “overage” unmarried sons and their aging parents, and the inter-generational contract between them within the family-household. De-linking the idea of the biological clock from the female body, this paper demonstrates that social understandings of bodily progression are equally significant for men, who, in the Indian context, need to marry by a certain age, and their elderly parents who need to be cared for. In north India, where family-household unit is the most important welfare and security institution for the elderly, disruptions to household formation due to bride shortage caused by sex ratio imbalance, is subjecting families to severe stress. Families with unmarried sons struggle with anxieties centred on the inability to arrange marriages for aging sons, questions of allocation of household labor, the continuation of family line, and lack of care for the elderly. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in north India, this paper explores the tensions and negotiations between elderly parents and unmarried sons concerning the fulfillment (or lack of it) of the intergenerational contract against the backdrop of gender imbalance. It concludes by discussing the various strategies available to families in crisis that involve shame-faced adoption of domestic and care tasks by unmarried sons or bringing cross-region brides who then provide productive, reproductive, and care labour.
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