Working Papers

Women’s Employment in India: Intra-Household and Intra-Personal Constraints

India's female labor force participation rate is among the lowest in the world. Research suggests many women in India want to work, husbands' opposition to their work is a key constraint, and husbands can be persuaded that their wives should work. But if women want to work and their husbands are persuadable, why do women not persuade them? This paper suggests that doing so requires a general sense of self-confidence that is lacking among women in India. My experiment offered women in rural Uttar Pradesh a psychosocial intervention to raise generalized self-efficacy (GSE), or beliefs in own ability to attain desired outcomes. The intervention produced a persistent gain in GSE. I cross-randomized whether women's families were shown a video promotion of women's work. The promotion given alone increased short-run employment, consistent with families being persuadable. The GSE intervention on its own also raised short-run employment, and data suggest a key channel was giving women confidence to persuade their families. Short-run employment under both treatments is no different than under neither and, for some comparisons, significantly lower than under either alone; intervening in the household appears to be a delicate endeavor. I find no effects on long-run employment, suggesting it is harder to persuade families that women should stay in the workplace than enter it.

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

The Economic Consequences of 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)