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Indian Journal of Community Medicine

A Comparative Study on Working Housemaids and a Control Group

Author(s): S. D. Gupta, S. Mitra, P. Chatterjee

Vol. 30, No. 3 (2005-07 - 2005-09)


Objective: To study the health status of paid housemaids within the age range of 15-55 years and above, in the study area.To compare the health status, morbidity pattern and some health related factors like contraceptive practices, between the working and non-working women of the same age-range, neighbourhood and socio-economic status and to identify any difference if existing between the two groups. To find out whether there is any specific health risk for the working women, related to their economic activity. To provide recommendations for specific conditions as observed.

Study design: Cross sectional study. Method: Interview, physical examination. Setting: Slum settlement adjacent to Hooghly Station area, West Bengal. Participants: Women in the slum area, working in different houses of the neighbourhood as housemaids, constitute the study group. Same number of nonworking women from the same slum area, of similar age-range and socio-economic conditions were taken as controls.

Results: The women of both the study and the control group live in appalling condition in small earthen huts with thatched roof. There is a gross lack of clean drinking water and sanitary facilities, for both the groups. A high prevalence of anaemia was found among both the working and non-working women under study.The working women are consistently found to have higher number of children than the non-working women, which may be a reason for their economic activity. The working women are also found to have their first childbirth at a relatively later age. Regarding contraceptive practices, most of the working women are found to accept the permanent method, whereas the non-working women under study have mostly opted for the temporary methods, specially the contraceptive.

Key words: Working Housemaids, Nonworking Controls, Health Conditions, Number of Children, Contraceptive Practices.


Although women workers make major contributions to the family income, they do not give themselves even the modicum of care and attention required. In general, working women, specially in the low socio-economic class, are subjected to an unduly heavy workload supplemented by inadequate food and insufficient rest and so are exposed to a high health risk. In the present study, a group of waged housemaids in Hoogly district was studied, along with a comparable group of nonworking women of the same slum area, as controls.

Materials and Methods

The study area is a slum adjacent to Hoogly station, consisting of Krishnapur Jheelpar, Kangar Jheelpar and Kangar-2 areas consisting of total 1169 population and 653 females, under Lohapur-sub-centre of Mogra BPHC.

The study group consisting 100 women who were working in different houses in the neighbourhood, as paid housemaids. The women were grouped into 5 groups of 20 each in the age range of (15-24), (25-34), (35-44), (45-54) and 55 years+. 100 non-working women from the same slum locality within the same age range were taken as controls, 20 women from each of the 5 age-groups. Data collection was done by house-tohouse visit in the area, identifying the working and nonworking women. The women under study were interviewed by a prested questionnaire and general health examination was performed.

Results and Discussions

Most of the women among both working and non-working groups were illterate.

Living condition

The subjects live in single room houses with earthen wall and thatched roof, with no separate kitchen, and with Inadequate ventilation, dampness and lack of natural light. The only one source of drinking water was (a tube well) in the area. There is no sanitary latrine in the area.


Prevalence of overcrowding is more among the working women. About 30% of the working and 17% of the non-working women have 5-10 family members living together and the difference is statistically significant. The distribution of overcrowding is clearly associated with the working status of the women, which reflects an increased economic burden on the working women, forcing them to work.

Most of the working women (55%) work for 4-8 hours, 25% work for less than 4 hours and 20% work for more than 8 hours/day, in their job. The working women do not get any rest during day time, whereas all the non-working women under study take about 3 hours rest during noon. At night, the average resting period is about 9 hours, which is more or less same for both the groups.

Table I: Age at First Childbirth

Age at first
20 Yrs. or less 13 37
21-30 82 61
31-34 5 2
>34 - -
X2 = 15.82, P< 0.05.

It is evident from table I that, for about 37% of non-working and 13% working women, the age at first childbirth is 20 years or lesser, the difference being, statistically significant.

About 35% of working women and 17% of non working women have three living children. The difference is statistically significant. In general, the trend observed is that non-working women have comparatively lesser number of children than the working women. Adoption of permanent sterlization is observed to be more frequent among the working women (70%) than among the non working women (55%). However, it should be noted that most of the women have adopted the permanent method after the birth of their 3rd child. Among the temporary methods, IUD-acceptance is slightly more in the working women (10%) than the non-working women (5%). But use of O.C. pills is remarkably higher among the non-working women (40%) than the working women (20%). It comes out that 98% of the under five children of the working women and 100% of those of the non-working women are immunized against the 6 vaccine-preventable diseases under UIP.This reflects the awareness and motivation of the mothers of both the groups towards the health of their children inspite of their poor socio-economic conditions.

Out of all nutritional diseases, anaemia (clinically diagnosed) is most prevalent among both the groups. It is to be noted that clinical signs of other deficiency diseases viz. vit A deficiency, Vit. B complex deficiency, dental caries, fluorosis and goiter are low in both the groups.The high prevalence of anaemia among the subjects may be due to both nutritional deficiency of iron and hookworm infestation.

The common morbidity pattern is similar in both the groups. However, the prevalence of skin diseases was found to be 15% in the working and 6% in the non working women. The common dermatosis found in them were scabies, paronychia, tinea versicolor and other fungal infections. Infections of the hands were the commonest which may have relationship with the increased handling of water, soap, detergents and scrubbing elements (like ash) by the working women. However, this needs further probing.

The most important cause of economic activity of the working group, as revealed by the study, was survival of self and the dependants (46%). Another important cause detected was to provide for children.s education (32%), reflecting the awareness and concern of the women about the need of education. It is unfortunate that there was about 60% school dropout rate among the children of the working women whereas in the non-working group, only 20% children were school droputs. In about 15% of the working women, the cause was found to be to meet the expenses for a daughter.s marriage. About 50% of the husbands of the working group and none of those of the non-working group were found to be unemployed. This corroborates the finding that economic handicap is the main driving force behind the wage work by the case group.

About 85% of the non-working group husbands and 40% of the working group husbands are found to be in the habit of alcoholism. It is to be noted that none of the women in either group reported wife-battering by their husbands.


  1. Constitution of India: Article 15(3) support of article 14.
  2. Chitnis Suma. A review of the progress made in India towards the achievement of objectives of United Nations Decade for Women (Research Study). Economic & Social Commission for Asia & Pacific 1979 : 31-34.
  3. Gulati Leela. Profiles in female poverty : A study of five working women in Kerala. Hindustan Publishing Corporation. 1981: 164-170.
  4. Batriwala Srilata. Women in poverty : Energy, health & Nutrition Superdrome in the homeless. Sakti Books. 1985. 38-49.
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