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Dads and Moms

Markus Goldstein's picture

Yesterday, David argued that “the important work on trying to raise the incomes and status of women around the world doesn’t continue to come in part by neglecting the important role you [dads] play.” While I don’t think the world of development programs is in any remote danger of ignoring men in favor of women, I do think we aren’t paying enough attention to how men and women interact, and what that means for how programs work (e.g. to increase the welfare of all).

The good news is that we know a heck of a lot more about this than we did 20 years ago, and more people seem to be paying attention to this. A couple of lessons stand out:

·         Consumption: men and women, in the same household, spend their money in different ways, and on different things.   And where that money comes from matters. There is a very nice paper on this by Esther Duflo and Chris Udry where they look at the effect of positive income shocks on spending patterns in Cote d’Ivoire.   First, they show that expenditures are not consistent with a pareto efficient allocation of household resources.   Second, income from different sources is not fungible. Take the case of income from yams.   In this context, yams are an appreciated product, i.e. “always under the control of the household head for redistribution to the entire household in the form of food.” Positive shocks to this get spent on food, education, and staples. But rainfall shocks that boost the output of crops cultivated individually by men and women are associated with shifts towards adult and prestige goods.   Shocks that increase women’s crops shift expenditure towards food. Shocks to men’s crops have no effect on food expenditures.   Bottom line: we definitely can’t assume that households act as a unit, and we can’t even assume that they behave in line with a collective model of the household.   What we do need to do is understand how they’re interacting (which this paper, with a strong emphasis on anthropology, is a good example of).   And if we understand how their consumption patterns will react, we can figure out who to target and how. 

This isn’t just a developing country phenomenon. Shelley Lundberg, Robert Pollak and Terence Wales have a nice paper in the Journal of Human Resources looking at the shift in paying a child allowance from the husband to the wife in the UK. Presto: household consumption patterns change with more being spent on women’s and children’s clothing relative to men’s clothing.  

·         Production: Here again, we need to understand how men and women (in the same household) interact in order to make more effective policy – even to raise income.   David and coauthors Suresh de Mel and Chris Woodruff have a nice paper in AEJ Applied that makes this point – and shows us how a good survey will let you look at this in the context of experimental work.   This paper follows on their earlier Sri Lanka work which showed that a cash grant had a positive effect on men’s business but didn’t do anything for female owned businesses. In this paper (ungated version here) they unpack this difference in outcomes.   It turns out women are skewing their investment towards things their husband can’t expropriate.   And this is particularly pronounced for women who have lower measures of autonomy (in household and business decisions).   So, efficient households? No.  Add to this Chris Udry’s Journal of Political Economy paper on the inefficiencies in agricultural household production and we have shards of evidence that suggest that in order to grow household income, we need to think about how men and women interact – within the household, as well as in society at large. 

But these are just pieces. David is right when he points to the fact that we need more evidence.   As he pointed out, even in the case of transfer programs, where there are a plethora of randomized evaluations, there is very, very little that looks at what the effects of transfers to men versus women look like.   On the consumption side more broadly, most of the literature relies on unearned income (Duflo and Udry use shocks) to solve the endogenity problem.   What would be nice is to put it all together (as David and coauthors do) and look at changes in production and then the resulting consumption impacts.   This will yield insights into the gender-differentiated constraints in making income grow, and then what happens to welfare (moms, dads, sons, daughters) when we do. 

So what does the ideal research taking this forward look like? First, it requires more data points. If we want to talk about men and women both, rather than some notion of “households” the sample will have to be larger as Alaka and I pointed out a while back.   Second, it is going to require a better sense of what to look for. And here, as we can see in Duflo and Udry’s paper, guidance from our non-economist friends is likely to be quite instructive. Third, it’s going to require good variables – measures of who is doing what, who “owns” what (and how secure that is), who is spending how much on different things, and better measures of the processes within households.    And we need to do this in the context of both inferential research and meaningful experiments which tackle issues of growth in enterprises and in agriculture.  


Submitted by Agnes Quisumbing on
Markus, thanks for making this point. One of the drawbacks of the early household bargaining literature is that it focuses almost exclusively on husband and wife (or men's and women's) bargaining power within the household, and the allocation of goods/time to individuals. In many studies of differential impact of resources held by women/men on intrahousehold allocations, one proxy for bargaining power is individually held assets (or unearned income, almost always assigned to individuals). Yet one of the reasons for people to form households is because of public goods--including those children that make us into moms and dads, and many recent studies (including those in the "In Her Name Project" of Deere, Doss, and Grown, and some of my own) show that, within households, assets can be held by the husband, wife, and jointly. There aren't many empirical studies that look at this, but we (at IFPRI) are hoping to look at this more closely. For a conceptual framework paper that examines how interventions affect/ are affected by men's, women's, and joint asset ownership, see (this is also CAPRi WP99).

this is a really good point and something that pushes how we think about things. One of the key things is getting better at understanding what joint means (e.g. in farm ownership) and, for example, what rights are held (and how these might change over time) for things like harvest decisions, crop disposal, etc. Obviously with the larger class of assets, the scope of things we might care about is bigger.

Submitted by Tim Ogden on
Markus, I linked this in a comment on David's post as well; I hope I'm not beating a dead horse. I discussed the Duflo/Udry paper with Esther in an interview with her ( I think it's important to be clear that increases in women's crops led to more food expenditures but also to more spending by women on themselves. This is consistent with an interpretation that a) that men and women perceive that money that they earn is available for them to spend on themselves, b) that an important factor in how money gets spent is social roles. Thus there is the strong possibility of tension in the efforts to target women--as women get more independence from social norms that force them away from income generation and into household good/service production, their spending patterns may shift to undermine this justification for focusing on women. There is also not nearly enough evidence to reject the hypothesis (that remains prevalent in developed countries as David suggested) that men's failure to invest in their families is directly due to unstable income earning opportunities. It is quite plausible that a good way to increase investment in children is to invest in truly stable jobs for fathers. None of this is an argument against investing in women, in reducing discrimination or in incresing opportunity for women. It is an argument for making sure we understand the underlying mechanisms in any situation so that the interventions implemented are likely to produce the outcomes we intend.

Submitted by markus on
Tim, I had indeed read your comment, and your interesting interview with Abhijit and Esther. The point i was shooting for was that men and women treat income differently (generally) and that this may depend on the source (one of the nice insights of the duflo and udry paper). For a moment, let's put aside what they spend it on. The fact that they treat income differently in these ways means that it really matters who you target in the household. And where the money comes from and what it "means" is likely to result in different outcomes. Furthermore, work by folks like Nava Ashraf and others (which i've blogged about in the past), indicate that whether or not the spouse knows how much the recipient is getting also matters for outcomes. So taking this all together, we need to walk more carefully (and do more research) in the realm of transfers. Second, there may not be enough evidence to reject the hypothesis that men being less likely to invest in their families is due to unstable income, but i don't see a lot of proof either. I have a bunch of theories, but no good evidence on differences in spending patterns. And I totally agree with your last point -- this was the point i was trying to make by looking at the flip side of what David was saying -- and if we don't get a better understanding, we're likely to get policy wrong enough that it matters. And the fact that households don't function like a unit, or even in a pareto efficient fashion (as Esther and Chris' paper shows) has ramifications not only for transfers but for things as far flung as taxes (and how workers respond).

Submitted by Tim Ogden on
One interesting way to look at underlying mechanisms is to look at 2-parent households (regardless of sex of parents) to see if there are patterns in spending. Do opposite sex households where the woman is the primary income earner spend more on children and education? How does that compare to spending where both parents are women? Where both parents are men? Has anyone looked at this in developed countries?

Submitted by priya alvarez on
Hi Markus, good points in your post and good comments as well. I do think there are many differences in expenditure patterns and a lot to explore in transfers. I find especially enlightening, in the context of research on taxation, how joint taxation for couples, where the main earner (normally men) benefits from having a dependent spouse, implies that women's earnings are just a complement to the main source of income in the household; to the point that they are made irrelevant in front of the fiscal benefits that joint taxation entails from a purely economic point of view. At the same time, this reasoning completely clouds other concerns about the impact of abandoning the labor market for women's independence, for the balance of power in household bargains, and in other negotiations, and as regards the capacity of undermining women's chances to return to the labor market in the long run. thanks!