Joint families are common in Indian societies. While I see many a benefit of joint family system, I also see the perils that lead to dysfunction in families.
Greatest of the perils in my observation and experience, especially in middle class joint families, is free-rider problem, which is the focus of this post.
Joint family: A family where adult siblings live together along with their parents in one house sharing a kitchen and home finances.
There are broadly two types of MEN who live in joint family –
- They are living in joint family because they feel obliged to serve and provide for the family
- They bring more value and resources to the family than they consume
- They are often bogged down by responsibilities, in that they may have potential to achieve more, greater things in life, but due to the weight of responsibilities they can’t live to their fullest potential
- If they were left independent their lives would likely improve
- They are burden-bearers
- They are living in joint family mainly because they are not capable of surviving independently (they may or may not feel obliged to serve)
- They bring less or no value and resources to the family and consume more
- They have little potential other than what they gain by exposure to family responsibilities, their stability may be because of living in the family
- If they were left independent, their lives would likely deteriorate
- They are burdens
Note that the above classification only covers men of earning age, excepting women and aged dependents. As you can see, the way givers and takers are constituted is in stark contrast to each other.
If you are an adult man living in a joint family you might want to consider which one are you, a giver, or a taker?
Do you contribute equally to home finances as the other earning member, or contribute in proportion to your income? If you earn less and hence contribute less, that may not necessarily make you a taker. But how would you figure out if you are a burden or a burden-bearer?
Are you Giver or Taker?
Here’s how you should figure out if you are contributing enough to the family or are only taking from them, thus being a burden.
Imagine independent survival. Think that you don’t have a family house to live in, nor have any family member to support you financially. You’re completely alone and independent in the world as far as acquiring food, clothing and shelter is concerned.
In that case, how well are you able to survive? Or, would you be able to survive at all? If you are not able to survive, or would survive but not with as many material comforts as you enjoy with family, then that means you are now a burden on the family.
Let me help you ascertain your survival cost:
Your main survival costs consist of food, clothing and shelter.
Consider the quality and quantity of food you consume while living with family, the clothes you can afford to wear and the facilities you enjoy in the house.
Now think about how much money it would take to enjoy the same food, afford the same clothes, and live in the similar house (with all its comforts and facilities). For ascertaining the cost of shelter you would take into account the rent in your area, of the house the size of your portion in the family house.
Adding up these three costs – of food, clothing and shelter – will give you the cost of independent survival (COIS).
Now ask yourself this: Is your income more or less than your COIS? If your income is less than your COIS, then logic says someone else in the family is paying (or has paid, in case of ancestral house) for the life you are living in the joint family.
You’re a burden to the extent your contribution to the family is less than your COIS. Your COIS, for example, is Rs. 10,000/month, and your contribution to the family is Rs. 4,000/month, then you are a burden worth Rs. 6,000 which someone else in the family is bearing.
If your income is more than your COIS, are you contributing to the family more than COIS? If not, then again you are a burden.
How much should be a Man’s contribution to family?
If you are an adult man, first of all your income must be more than your COIS for you to not be considered a failure. Secondly, if you are an adult man with income greater than COIS living in joint family, you must give at the very least equivalent to your COIS, and ideally more than that for there may be non-contributing dependents in the family.
A family in which financial and other responsibilities are disproportionately shared by its men is not a healthy family, as there would be incentives for conflicts and severe dysfunction.
If you are taker in a joint family, you should start working on bringing more value to the family. Or think of going independent and see what you can make of your life. If you come to like independence better, good for you. But don’t continue being a burden. That’s not the way of men.
And if you are giver in a joint family, you might want to have a subtle and honest conversation with the takers, sharing the thinking and method described in this post to assess the situation. Try and see if it awakens their conscience.
Let me tell you this: Takers often have no limits, it’s the givers who have to draw the line.
So if you pitch to them to go independent, you would be doing them a favor initiating them to make men of themselves – even if they hate you for it.