Arvind Subramanian's 'pink' Economic Survey may not impress women

The theme for the Economic Survey 2017-18 presented in Parliament on Monday by finance minister Arun Jaitley was pink, apparently to confront Indian society’s notorious preference for sons.

Published: 30th January 2018 02:14 AM  |   Last Updated: 30th January 2018 04:25 PM   |  A+A-

Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian holds a copy of annual Economic Survey 2017-18 that was tabled in Parliament in New Delhi on Monday. | PTI

Online Desk

The theme for the Economic Survey 2017-18 presented in Parliament on Monday by finance minister Arun Jaitley was pink, apparently to confront Indian society’s notorious preference for sons, and the gender injustice faced by women. Implicit in adopting pink is the assumption that it is the colour preferred by women. 

Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian posed for pictures displaying the Economic Survey’s coral pink cover, and the graphs and charts had headers ranging from peach to fuschia. “We just wanted to make sure that we too in our own small way contribute to expressing our support to the movement in favour of women’s empowerment. In fact, there is a whole chapter in the Survey on gender,” he said.

Indeed Chapter 7, titled ‘Gender and Son Meta-Preference: Is Development Itself an Antidote?’ bears the hashtag #MeToo, a surprising nod to the worldwide movement against sexual harassment of women. Alas, it appears below a rather dreary quote by Maithilisharan Gupt: “Woman, this is your life story Mothering your role, sadness your destiny.”

The assumption that pink is the way into a woman’s heart presents itself to us everywhere: in the baby care sections of malls, advertisements of beauty products, campaigns on women’s health, the logos of Lakme, J&J, Pond’s, Lux. In the USA, pink has been used to differentiate newborn girls from boys — a trend that seems to be catching on in India as foreign brands dominate the baby care market. 

But do women really prefer pink?

Everybody’s more like blue

Turns out, blue, not pink, is everybody’s favourite colour, men and women.  A 2012 study on gender norms conducted by University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen surveyed nearly 2,000 men and women and found that blue was the most favoured colour with most genders. The second most popular colour was green for men and purple for women. 

While 42 per cent of the men chose blue and 25 per cent green, only 1 per cent said pink was their favourite colour. Among women, 29 per cent favoured blue, with purple coming a close second getting 27 per cent of the vote, whereas only 7 per cent chose pink. 

Similar results were observed in another study of 208 volunteers aged 20-26 by neurologists at Newcastle University. Both men and women preferred blue, but women tended to pick redder variants of blue, such as reddish-purple hues, whereas men veered towards blue-green shades.

The evolutionary link with pink

The Newcastle study, and other studies, observed that women and men almost always showed a distinct preference along the red-green axis of human colour vision– men preferring greener shades and women preferring red hues.

The co-author of the Newcastle study, Yazhu Ling, said there could be an evolutionary reason behind women’s tendency toward a red shade of blue. Time Magazine quoted her in a 2007 article as saying that the colour preference and women’s ability to better discriminate red from green could have evolved due to gender-specific labour roles of early humans. While men hunted, women gathered and had to spot ripe berries and fruits.

Another theory says women as caregivers had to be sensitive to changes in their child’s colouring, an indicator of health, reddish hues denoting a fever, perhaps. 

Who, me pinko? 

Researchers at Erasmus University in Rotterdam found that when women were shown breast cancer ads with a pink theme, they were less likely to think they could be at risk themselves or donate to a cancer charity, according to 2014 BBC report. “The authors don’t believe this was because they hated the colour pink, but because when they were reminded of their gender so overtly, the adverts felt so personally threatening that it set off denial mechanisms,” the report said. 

Arvind Subramanian’s nod to gender justice gave a dash of charm to the usual dullness of the annual Economic Survey but it takes more than just a dab of rouge to correct India’s notoriously skewed gender ratio. As the chapter on gender in the Economic Survey says, the problem is historical and long-standing. "On gender, society as a whole—civil society, communities, households—and not just any government must reflect on a societal preference, even meta-preference for a son, which appears inoculated to development."

Illustrating the magnitude of the problem, which leads to female foeticide and female infanticide, the Survey says, "The adverse sex ratio of females to males led to 63 million “missing” women. But the meta-preference manifests itself in fertility-stopping rules contingent on the sex of the last child, which notionally creates “unwanted” girls, estimated at about 21 million."

No takers for orange 

As an aside, it would be of some interest to the men in this government that the least liked colour, among both men and women, is orange. In the Philip Cohen study, only 7 per cent of men and 3 per cent of women chose orange as their favourite colour. Whereas 26 per cent of people across 22 nationalities surveyed in a 2003 study by Joe Hallock, albeit with a small sample size of just 232, said orange was their least liked colour. They considered the colour cheap and inexpressive.


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