“Nari Shakti" - Women’s Relative Power and Productivity in Rural India: Two Essays

  • Author / Creator
    Shandal, Monica
  • This thesis is comprised of two essays on rural villages in India. The following will provide a brief abstract for each of the essays, where one focuses on the women’s power – infrastructure relationship (1) and another on agricultural productivity relative to men (2).

    Inequality between men and women is pervasive even though gender equality is regarded as a basic human right. Compared to men, the average woman attains lower education, participates less in the formal labour market, receives lower wages, owns fewer resources, and exhibits weaker bargaining positions in household decision-making processes. In India, women and girls frequently face social and structural barriers. Policymakers regularly employ gender-sensitive measure to attempt to close the inequality gap, but such policies are extremely difficult to implement correctly. Rather, the use of gender-neutral interventions such as infrastructure is becoming increasingly more common.
    Using big data comprised of both primary and secondary data from rural India and a novel econometric approach, this paper seeks to quantify the causal effect of infrastructure development – specifically roads – on women's power (e.g. women's decision making and bargaining power within the household). We use a fuzzy regression discontinuity design that exploits program rules from a national rural road program to estimate the effects of the road on an aggregate index of women’s empowerment as well as several disaggregated measures to get at different dimensions of women’s household decision making.
    We find that women experience an overall drop in decision making power. This result is found to be largely driven by a drop in agricultural decision making (e.g. household production). However, we also observed an increase in decision making power in non-agriculture decision making (e.g. household consumption, labour and financial/ land markets). Overall the shifts may in decision making and power may be a signal of rural transformation.

    Understanding women’s productivity with respect to agricultural production, frequently requires the use of the collective household model. The collective household model maintains that male and female household members with different preferences maximize household utility and achieve Pareto efficient outcomes through cooperation and bargaining. However, a growing body of literature examining the validity of the Pareto efficiency assumption has found that plots of land managed by women are frequently less productive compared to those farmed by men. The discrepancy in productivity is attributed to differences in the inputs used on male and female-owned plots within the household. Thus, a reallocation of land from women to men (keeping all else constant) could significantly increase total agricultural production. Therefore, scholars have continually sought to explain if women farmers are inherently less productive then men farmers; or if the gender-differentiated profits can be explained by differences in the constraints faced by women– no real answer has been found.
    This paper examines the issue of women’s agricultural productivity (inefficiencies in yields between women and men-owned plots) using a large and detailed plot-level dataset collected from residents of rural India. We characterize the Pareto (in) efficiency between men and women owned plots in two ways; we study the variation in inefficiencies across observed and unobserved heterogeneity. We find that women’s ownership negatively impacts yields, but the magnitude of the effect is heavily influenced by observed plot, household and village characteristics. Moreover, when examining variation across the yields distribution (unobserved heterogeneity), we find that women and men owned plots display inequalities in yield. We further this study by also providing fresh insight into the intra-household model assumption of non-separability. Through the methods employed, we find that the assumption may not accurately represent rural households.
    All in all, our findings support that development policies should go beyond general interventions that fail to recognize gender roles, rather policies may increase effectiveness by exclusively target women. Increasing the productivity of women engaged in agriculture is believed to yield high returns in the form of greater empowerment for women, increased welfare for their households, and increased productivity of the agricultural sector.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2019
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Science
  • DOI
  • License
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