Unpacking within household interactions: the roles people take

This blog was originally posted on The World Bank's Development Impact Blog

Photo credit: Trees ForTheFuture

Some of us often try to understand how households may be functioning by using intrahousehold decision making questions. For example, the multi country Demographic and Health Surveys often ask who makes decisions on large household purchase: the male, the female or the two together. The idea is that this kind of question helps us understand power dynamics. And there is a fair bit of correlational work that suggests this makes sense.

Unpacking what this might be measuring is a topic for another post, but for today, a fascinating new paper by Tanguy Bernard, Cheryl Doss, Melissa Hidrobo, Jessica Hoel, and Caitlin Kieran, takes us one step further to show us that the roles people take within the household (as well as who participates in a decision) matter a lot for real outcomes.

So what do I mean by roles in the household? It’s the why behind taking a decision. So if a wife decided what crop to plant, is it because she is in charge? Do village norms dictate that she makes this decision? Or that she is just the best informed person? This is the measurement innovation that Bernard and co. bring to the table. Bernard and co. set out to capture these roles through a series of vignettes, which lay out the following types:

  • The dictator. S/he makes all the decisions because s/he is in charge (note: joint dictatorship is an option)
  • Contribution. Here the person is the decider because they bring the resources to the table (or farm)
  • Separate spheres. She decides everything in one domain, he in an another
  • Norms. That’s the way it is done in this community
  • Most informed. The decider is the decider because s/he has the most information

Read the full story here>>


Author of this blog, Markus Goldstein is a development economist with experience working in Sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia, and South Asia. He is currently a Lead Economist in the Office of the Chief Economist for Africa at the World Bank, where he leads the Gender Innovation Lab.

The paper "Ask Me Why: Using Vignettes to Understand Patterns of Intrahousehold Decision Making in Rural Senegal" featured in this blog presents results of the project undertaken with financial support from the European Union through the CGIAR Research Programs on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM) and Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH), led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Funding was also received from IFPRI’s Strategic Innovations Fund.

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