Panel Paper: Polygamous Households and Intrahousehold Bargaining: Evidence and Policy Implications from Mali and Tanzania

Tuesday, June 14, 2016 : 3:45 PM
Clement House, 3rd Floor, Room 04 (London School of Economics)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

C. Leigh Anderson, University of Washington, Evans School of Public Policy & Governance, Travis Reynolds, Colby College and Joshua D Merfeld, University of Washington
In contrast with previous economic theories of the household, current research suggests that households do not act as a single unit, but rather that the allocation of resources within a household is a function of the characteristics of the household and its members. Specifically, theory predicts that the bargaining power of a wife within the household is a function of the woman’s best outside option—or reservation utility (Manser and Brown, 1980; McElroy and Horney, 1981). While McElroy and Horney (1981) consider the ratio of males to females in the marriage market as a measure of the woman’s best outside option, other factors affecting the quality of a woman’s exit options include financial and human capital. The greater is a wife’s reservation utility, the higher are her hypothesized bargaining power and share of resources within the household.

While this outcome is interesting—and likely welcomed—in its own right, a bigger implication for development policy concerns how the wife spends her increased resources. If a wife and husband spend marginal income in the same way, then this shift in resource allocation has no effect on household welfare. However, if women have differing preferences from men and therefore spend resources differently, the implications of this change in bargaining power for household welfare can be substantial. Hoddinott and Haddad (1995) and Gummerson and Schneider (2013), for instance, find that increasing a woman’s share of household income increases the share of income spent on food and decreases the share spent on alcohol and tobacco. A long line of evidence suggests that increasing women’s bargaining power improves household outcomes more broadly, including the nutritional status of children (Bhagowalia et al, 2010; LÚpine and Strobl, 2013), infant feeding practices (Malapit et al, 2013; Malapit and Quisumbing, 2015), and child education (Duflo, 2003; Quisumbing and Maluccio, 2003). These results suggest a policy lever to improve household outcomes: increasing the bargaining power of women through increasing their relative assets such as land rights, education, and health.

However, it is not clear if these findings apply in all contexts. To explore this question, we look at household decision-making in both monogamous and polygamous households in Mali and Tanzania. Using a unique dataset that surveys husbands and wives separately, we analyze how characteristics of the households and their members affect decision-making authority. Given the differences in gender norms inherent to monogamous versus polygamous households (Mabsout and van Staveren, 2010), there are reasons to believe that the characteristics affecting bargaining power may differ across these households. Initial results suggest that it is the husband’s characteristics, such as education, rather than the wife’s, that explain variation in bargaining power among polygamous households. If this holds, the most effective policies to improve household outcomes may also differ for polygamous households versus monogamous ones. Specifically, if women’s exit options are limited or weakened by the ability to have multiple wives, it may be more effective to target women in monogamous households but men in polygamous households.