Autonomy or efficiency : an experiment on household decisions in two regions of India.


Dyson and Moore (1983) posit that women in South India enjoy relatively more agency than in the North. Their conclusions have become part of the standard picture of Indian rural society. In this paper, the authors examine using experimental data the implications of this regional contrast in female autonomy for the efficiency of family decision-making. They take a sample of 1200 couples from two areas in the north of India (Uttar Pradesh) and one area in the south (Tamil Nadu) that are often taken to exemplify differences in the autonomy of women and the nature of marital relationships. Generally, the study found large-scale and robust evidence of inefficiency and the hiding of assets when this is possible. Men invest more and are more generous to their partners. Women are more willing to invest in a common pool when their income is earned through working and when assets are publicly observable. Regarding the focus of this paper, the authors find continuing significant differences between North and South and the authors find relatively little evidence that urban living is associated with changes in the nature of marital behaviour. There are some differences between response to treatment but the key and striking difference between the North and the South is that in both rural and urban sites in the former region household efficiency is considerably greater than in the latter, which does on the face of it suggest a trade-off between autonomy and efficiency.


Centre for Behavioural and Experimental Social Science, Norwich, UK.

Autonomy or efficiency : an experiment on household decisions in two regions of India.

Published 1 January 2011