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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, Japan)

  • Bereket Kebede

    (School of Development Studies, University of East Anglia)

  • Marcela Tarazona-Gomez

    (School of Development Studies, University of East Anglia)

  • Arjan Verschoor

    (School of Development Studies, University of East Anglia)

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 this regional contrast in female autonomy for the efficiency of family decision-making. We take a sample of 1200 couples from two areas 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 School of Economics, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK. in its series Working Paper series, University of East Anglia, Centre for Behavioural and Experimental Social Science (CBESS) with number 11-02.

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Date of creation: 01 Feb 2011
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:uea:wcbess:11-02
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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Carlsson, Fredrik & Martinsson, Peter & Qin, Ping & Sutter, Matthias, 2009. "Household decision making and the influence of spouses’ income, education, and communist party membership: A field experiment in rural China," Working Papers in Economics 356, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.
  6. 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.
  7. Alistair Munro & Ian Bateman, 2004. "An Experiment On Risky Choice Amongst Households," Royal Economic Society Annual Conference 2004 77, Royal Economic Society.
  8. 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.
  9. Vegard Iversen & Cecile Jackson & Bereket Kebede & Alistair Munro & Arjan Verschoor, 2006. "What’s love got to do with it ? An experimental test of household models in East Uganda," CSAE Working Paper Series 2006-01, Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford.
  10. Bereket Kebede & Marcela Tarazona & Alistair Munro & Arjan Verschoor, 2014. "Intra-household Efficiency: An Experimental Study from Ethiopia," Journal of African Economies, Centre for the Study of African Economies (CSAE), vol. 23(1), pages 105-150.
  11. repec:ema:worpap:2007-03 is not listed on IDEAS
  12. Robinson, Jonathan, 2008. "Limited Insurance Within the Household: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Kenya," Santa Cruz Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt2px0t7pt, Department of Economics, UC Santa Cruz.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. Cochard, François & Couprie, Hélène & Hopfensitz, Astrid, 2009. "Do Spouses Cooperate? And If Not: Why?," TSE Working Papers 09-134, Toulouse School of Economics (TSE).
  16. Anderson, Siwan & Eswaran, Mukesh, 2009. "What determines female autonomy? Evidence from Bangladesh," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(2), pages 179-191, November.
  17. 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.
  18. Bereket Kebede, 2011. "Intra-household efficiency: An experimental study from Ethiopia," Economics Series Working Papers CSAE WPS/2011-01, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  19. Todd L. Cherry & Peter Frykblom & Jason F. Shogren, 2002. "Hardnose the Dictator," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(4), pages 1218-1221, September.
  20. repec:ema:worpap:2009-10 is not listed on IDEAS
  21. Gary S. Becker, 1981. "A Treatise on the Family," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number beck81-1, July.
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