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Autonomy or Efficiency. An experiment on household decisions in two regions of India

  • Alistair Munro

    (National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies)

  • Bereket Kebede
  • Marcela Tarazona-Gomez
  • Arjan Verschoor

Dyson and Moore (1983) posit that women in South India enjoy relatively more agency than in the North. Their conclusions have become part of the standard picture of Indian rural society. In this paper, we examine using experimental data the implications of the regional contrast in female autonomy for the efficiency of family decision-making. We take a sample of 1200 couples from one rural and one urban area in the north of India (Uttar Pradesh) and one area in the south (Tamil Nadu) that are often taken to exemplify differences in the autonomy of women and the nature of marital relationships. Generally, we find large-scale and robust evidence of inefficiency and the hiding of assets when this is possible. Men invest more and are more generous to their partners. Women are more willing to invest in a common pool when their income is earned through working and when assets are publicly observable. Regarding the focus of our paper, we find continuing significant differences between North and South and we find relatively little evidence that urban living is associated with changes in the nature of marital behaviour. There are some differences between response to treatment but the key and striking difference between the North and the South is that in both rural and urban sites in the former region household efficiency is considerably greater than in the latter, which does on the face of it suggest a tradeoff between autonomy and efficiency.

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Paper provided by National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in its series GRIPS Discussion Papers with number 10-33.

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Length: 40 pages
Date of creation: Mar 2011
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ngi:dpaper:10-33
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  1. Alistair Munro & Arjan Verschoor & Bereket Kebede & Cecile Jackson & Vegard Iversen, 2006. "What's love got to do with it? An experimental test of household models in east uganda," Artefactual Field Experiments 00071, The Field Experiments Website.
  2. Iversen, Vegard & Jackson, Cecile & Kebede, Bereket & Munro, Alistair & Verschoor, Arjan, 2011. "Do Spouses Realise Cooperative Gains? Experimental Evidence from Rural Uganda," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 39(4), pages 569-578, April.
  3. Agnihotri, Satish & Palmer-Jones, Richard & Parikh, Ashok, 2002. "Missing women in Indian districts: a quantitative analysis," Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, Elsevier, vol. 13(3), pages 285-314, September.
  4. M. Browning & P. A. Chiappori, 1998. "Efficient Intra-Household Allocations: A General Characterization and Empirical Tests," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 66(6), pages 1241-1278, November.
  5. Gary S. Becker, 1981. "A Treatise on the Family," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number beck81-1.
  6. André de Palma & Nathalie Picard & Anthony Ziegelmeyer, 2008. "Individual and Couple Decision Behavior under Risk: The Power of Ultimate Control," Papers on Strategic Interaction 2006-22, Max Planck Institute of Economics, Strategic Interaction Group.
  7. Kebede, Bereket & Tarazona, Marcela & Munro, Alistair & Verschoor, Arjan, 2013. "Intra-household efficiency: An experimental study from Ethiopia," Working Paper Series UNU-WIDER Research Paper , World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
  8. Udry, Christopher, 1996. "Gender, Agricultural Production, and the Theory of the Household," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(5), pages 1010-46, October.
  9. Fredrik Carlsson & Peter Martinsson & Ping Qin & Matthias Sutter, 2009. "Household decision making and the influence of spouses? income, education, and communist party membership: A field experiment in rural China," Working Papers 2009-09, Faculty of Economics and Statistics, University of Innsbruck.
  10. Munro, Alistair & Bateman, Ian J. & McNally, Tara, 2008. "The family under the microscope: an experiment testing economic models of household choice," MPRA Paper 8974, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  11. Todd L. Cherry & Peter Frykblom & Jason F. Shogren, 2002. "Hardnose the Dictator," Working Papers 02-06, Department of Economics, Appalachian State University.
  12. Lupin Rahman & Vijayendra Rao, 2004. "The Determinants of Gender Equity in India: Examining Dyson and Moore's Thesis with New Data," Population and Development Review, The Population Council, Inc., vol. 30(2), pages 239-268.
  13. Robinson, Jonathan, 2008. "Limited Insurance Within the Household: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Kenya," MPRA Paper 8314, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  14. Lundberg, S. & Pollak, R.A., 1991. "Separate Spheres Bargaining and the Marriage Market," Discussion Papers in Economics at the University of Washington 91-08, Department of Economics at the University of Washington.
  15. Manser, Marilyn & Brown, Murray, 1980. "Marriage and Household Decision-Making: A Bargaining Analysis," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 21(1), pages 31-44, February.
  16. Alistair Munro & Ian Bateman, 2004. "An Experiment On Risky Choice Amongst Households," Royal Economic Society Annual Conference 2004 77, Royal Economic Society.
  17. Anderson, Siwan & Eswaran, Mukesh, 2009. "What determines female autonomy? Evidence from Bangladesh," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(2), pages 179-191, November.
  18. Cochard François & Couprie Helene & Hopfensitz Astrid, 2009. "Do Spouses Cooperate? And If Not: Why?," THEMA Working Papers 2009-10, THEMA (THéorie Economique, Modélisation et Applications), Université de Cergy-Pontoise.
  19. Alistair Munro & Bereket Kebede & Marcela Tarazona-Gomez & Arjan Verschoor, 2010. "The lion’s share. An experimental analysis of polygamy in Northern Nigeria," GRIPS Discussion Papers 10-27, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.
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