Research / Weiss Fund Supported ResearchOct 23, 2017

Bargaining Breakdown: Intra-Household Decision-Making and Female Labor Supply

Matt Lowe, Madeline McKelway

Women in the developing world often lack the power to make key household decisions. This comes at a cost – myriad evidence suggests that the preferences of women are more aligned with development goals than those of men. We use a field experiment to test whether the lack of decision making power of wives in India is due to a lack of information, or a lack of communication with husbands. We partnered with India’s largest carpet manufacturer to offer employment opportunities to 495 married women. Gender differences in preferences meant there was an intra-household tension: women were often interested in working outside of the home, while their husbands opposed the idea. We experimentally varied how the job opportunity was presented to couples. To test for the effects of information, and the incentives of husbands to withhold it, we randomized whether enrollment tickets and job information were given to the women or to their husbands. For the non-targeted spouse, we cross-randomized whether they were informed about the job opportunity, giving variation in whether husbands had plausible deniability. To test for the importance of communication, some couples received the ticket and information together, with a chance to discuss the job. Overall, enrollment was low at 17%. Information was not a barrier to enrollment – providing women with information about the opportunity had no effect because husbands did not strategically withhold information, despite having plausible deniability. Surprisingly, we find that having couples discuss the opportunity together decreased enrollment, by 6 to 9 percentage points. We conclude that policymakers should tread with care: intra-household communication may not be easily manipulated without unintended consequences for decision-making.