Some day, when times improve, says Aunt Lydia, no one will have to be an Econowife. The
This quote is said by Aunt Lydia (not an actual aunt but the member of the incredibly zealous monastery-like organization that kept Handmaids - women able to give birth - and controlled them).
She with some of her Handmaids observe the funeral ritual where three mourning Econowives participate. Econowives are the women that are given to the lower-class men to serve them as wives, child-bearers (if they are capable of it) and servants simultaneously. Econowives (as “economy wives”) are the dwellers of the social bottoms, only slightly higher than prostitutes (Jezebels). The roles of the women who belong to the men of higher status (almost all the women don’t have their own status) are more differentiated: the sole purpose of Handmaids is to bear children, the Marthas have to serve and do nothing except it and the Wives have the role that mostly resembles the modern role of the wife in the higher-class society.
The words said by Aunt Lydia are more like a consolation: despite her zealous attitude she cares for the women in her own wicked way. She hopes that when the country gets better, men will treat the women better, dividing their duties and not working them to exhaustion. Still, Aunt Lydia sees women as nothing more than cattle that may get better treatment when its owners will improve their own situation. Having more than one woman in the household is the sign of wealth, so Econowives are the marker of poverty, and the Aunt can actually worry not about the women, but about the wealth of the country in general.
Also, the sight of Econowives serves as a reminder to Handmaids that they could have it worse, with lots of other duties added to their child-bearing, lower status and worse treatment.