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Determinants and Consequences of Bargaining Power in Households


  • Leora Friedberg
  • Anthony Webb

    () (Center for Retirement Research, Boston College)


A growing literature offers indirect evidence that the distribution of bargaining power within a household influences decisions made by the household. These results undermine the notion that a household can be treated as a "unitary" decision maker. The indirect evidence links household outcomes to variables that are assumed to influence the distribution of bargaining power within the household. In this paper, we have data on whether a husband or wife in the Health and Retirement Study "has the final say" when making major decisions in a household. We use this variable to analyze determinants and some consequences of bargaining power. Our analysis overcomes endogeneity problems arising in many earlier studies and constitutes the missing link confirming the importance of household bargaining models. We find that decision-making power depends on plausible variables within the household and also influences important household outcomes, and moreover that the second set of results is much stronger than the first set. While current and lifetime earnings significantly affect decision-making power, the effects are moderate. On the other hand, decision-making power has important effects on financial decisions like stock market investment and total wealth accumulation and may help explain, for example, the relatively high poverty rate among widows. Thus, our results suggest that more research into the determination of bargaining power is needed, and that household bargaining has major effects on the welfare of household members.

Suggested Citation

  • Leora Friedberg & Anthony Webb, 2006. "Determinants and Consequences of Bargaining Power in Households," Working Papers, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College wp2006-13, Center for Retirement Research, revised Jun 2006.
  • Handle: RePEc:crr:crrwps:wp2006-13

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. ROSSI Cristina & SIERMINSKA Eva, 2015. "Single again? Saving patterns when widowhood occurs," LISER Working Paper Series 2015-04, LISER.
    2. Graziella Bertocchi & Marianna Brunetti & Costanza Torricelli, 2012. "Is it money or brains? The determinants of intra-family decision power," Centro Studi di Banca e Finanza (CEFIN) (Center for Studies in Banking and Finance) 12062, Universita di Modena e Reggio Emilia, Dipartimento di Economia "Marco Biagi".
    3. Kawaguchi, Daiji & Lee, Jungmin & Hamermesh, Daniel S., 2013. "A gift of time," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(C), pages 205-216.
    4. Estelle James & Alejandra Cox Edwards & Rebeca Wong, 2012. "The Gender Impact of Pension Reform," World Bank Other Operational Studies 13046, The World Bank.
    5. Bertocchi, Graziella & Brunetti, Marianna & Torricelli, Costanza, 2014. "Who holds the purse strings within the household? The determinants of intra-family decision making," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 101(C), pages 65-86.
    6. Majlesi, Kaveh, 2016. "Labor market opportunities and women's decision making power within households," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 119(C), pages 34-47.
    7. Thomas Baudin & David de la Croix & Paula E. Gobbi, 2015. "Fertility and Childlessness in the United States," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(6), pages 1852-1882, June.
    8. Blau, David M. & Goodstein, Ryan, 2016. "Commitment in the Household: Evidence from the Effect of Inheritances on the Labor Supply of Older Married Couples," IZA Discussion Papers 10059, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    9. Alberto Alesina & Andrea Ichino & Loukas Karabarbounis, 2011. "Gender-Based Taxation and the Division of Family Chores," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 3(2), pages 1-40, May.
    10. Julie L. Hotchkiss & Robert E. Moore, 2007. "Assessing the welfare impact of the 2001 tax reform on dual-earner families," FRB Atlanta Working Paper 2007-27, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
    11. repec:zbw:rwirep:0258 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. Rama Lionel Ngenzebuke & Bram De Rock & Philip Verwimp, 2014. "The Power of the Family: Kinship and Intra-Houselhold Decision-Making in Rural Burundi," Working Papers ECARES ECARES 2014-29, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
    13. Matthias Keese, 2011. "Thrifty Wives and Lavish Husbands? – Bargaining Power and Financial Dicisions in Germany," Ruhr Economic Papers 0258, Rheinisch-Westfälisches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Universität Dortmund, Universität Duisburg-Essen.
    14. Hou, Xiaohui, 2011. "Women's decision making power and human development : evidence from Pakistan," Policy Research Working Paper Series 5830, The World Bank.
    15. Blau, David M. & Goodstein, Ryan M., 2016. "Commitment in the household: Evidence from the effect of inheritances on the labor supply of older married couples," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 42(C), pages 123-137.
    16. Sylvia Brandt & Peter Marie, 2011. "Racial Disparities in Hospital Length of Stay for Asthma: Implications for Economic Policies," Journal of Family and Economic Issues, Springer, vol. 32(1), pages 152-169, March.
    17. Melanie Lührmann & Jürgen Maurer, 2007. "Who wears the trousers? A semiparametric analysis of decision power in couples," CeMMAP working papers CWP25/07, Centre for Microdata Methods and Practice, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
    18. Lépine, Aurélia & Strobl, Eric, 2013. "The Effect of Women’s Bargaining Power on Child Nutrition in Rural Senegal," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 45(C), pages 17-30.
    19. Paolo Casini & Olivia Riera & Paulo Santos Monteiro, 2015. "Labor market effects of improved access to credit among the poor: evidence from Cape Verde," LICOS Discussion Papers 36215, LICOS - Centre for Institutions and Economic Performance, KU Leuven.
    20. Keese, Matthias, 2011. "Thrifty Wives and Lavish Husbands? – Bargaining Power and Financial Dicisions in Germany," Ruhr Economic Papers 258, RWI - Leibniz-Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, Ruhr-University Bochum, TU Dortmund University, University of Duisburg-Essen.
    21. Tansel Yilmazer & Stephen Lich, 2015. "Portfolio choice and risk attitudes: a household bargaining approach," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 13(2), pages 219-241, June.
    22. Mabsout, Ramzi & van Staveren, Irene, 2010. "Disentangling Bargaining Power from Individual and Household Level to Institutions: Evidence on Women's Position in Ethiopia," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 38(5), pages 783-796, May.
    23. Pamela Giustinelli, 2011. "Group Decision Making with Uncertain Outcomes: Unpacking Child-Parent Choices of High School Tracks," Working Papers 2011-030, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.

    More about this item


    bargaining power; households; decision-making power;

    JEL classification:

    • D13 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Household Production and Intrahouse Allocation
    • D14 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Household Saving; Personal Finance
    • D91 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making
    • G11 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Portfolio Choice; Investment Decisions
    • J12 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Marriage; Marital Dissolution; Family Structure


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