Working Papers

Women’s Agency and Women's Employment: How Women's Sense of Agency Affects Their Labor Supply

Women in poor countries exercise little agency. I investigate whether agency is constrained by women's beliefs in their general ability to reach goals, beliefs referred to as generalized self-efficacy (GSE). I study agency in decisions about women's labor supply in India, a setting where women's employment is low, women have little say over their labor supply, and many women are interested in working. My experiment offered women a psychosocial intervention to raise GSE. I cross-randomized a video promotion of women's work for women's family members. The GSE intervention produced a persistent increase in GSE. The promotion made family members see more financial value in women working, but reduced women's interest in working. Effects on women's employment in the short-run are consistent with GSE treatment leading women to advocate in their households for their preferred outcome; GSE treatment had a positive effect when the promotion was not given but a negative effect when it was. There are no effects on long-run employment, perhaps because household chores made women's work unsustainable. I do find effects of GSE treatment on another economic outcome - saving - did persist. Taken together, my results suggest a key constraint to women's agency is women's own sense of agency.

Experimental Evidence on the Effects of Women’s Employment

A standard prediction of the household literature is that women's employment should increase women's intra-household bargaining power. This paper provides the first experimental tests of this prediction. The experiment is set in an area of rural India where women's employment is low and where women's family members typically decide whether women work. My intervention is a video promoting a women's employment opportunity that was designed to address family members' key objections to women working. I inform both treated and control family members about the opportunity but only show the promotion to treated family members. The promotion led to large increases in women's employment and is unlikely to have affected other family outcomes through channels aside from women's employment; I interpret effects of the promotion on these outcomes as effects of women's employment. I find employment enables women to make more decisions independently and without their husbands' knowledge. However, it does not increase their bargaining power in joint decisions. My results are inconsistent with the standard collective model of the household and more aligned with a model in which spouses do not fully pool their incomes.

Bargaining Breakdown: Intra-Household Decision-Making and Female Labor Supply (with Matt Lowe)

We outline a model of household decision-making that has support in recent empirical research and present results from an experiment that tests it. The key feature of the model is that households choose whether or not to bargain. Bargaining is costly, and information about the household's choice set may be asymmetric. In this model, spouses may withhold information to manipulate the choice set and may avoid bargaining to prevent certain outcomes from being realized. We test the model in the context of female labor supply in India. Spousal preferences are misaligned: wives are significantly more supportive of women's employment than their husbands. The model predicts spouses may withhold information or avoid bargaining to manipulate decisions about female labor supply. We experimentally vary enforcement of common knowledge and enforcement of bargaining. We randomize whether husbands or wives are given information about a women's job opportunity and an enrollment ticket. We cross-randomize whether non-targeted spouses are not informed, informed separately, or informed at the same time as their targeted spouses. In the third condition, we explicitly encourage discussion with the view of enforcing bargaining. Surprisingly, we find that husbands do not withhold information and that discussion significantly decreases enrollment. Our results contradict the standard predictions outlined in the model.

Research in Progress

Did Pensions Protect the Elderly from the Impacts of COVID? (with Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, Erin Grela, Frank Schilbach, Garima Sharma, and Girija Vaidyanathan)

The Economic Consequences of Depression and Loneliness Amongst the Elderly (with Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, Frank Schilbach, Garima Sharma, and Girija Vaidyanathan)

Understanding Low Attendance and Retention of Female Workers in India (with Namrata Kala)