Making sense of why spouses disagree in household surveys

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With women’s empowerment an increasingly active area for study, the stockpile of gender-disaggregated survey data has dramatically expanded. Based on these data, a growing body of literature has found that men and women often disagree when asked the same questions. But what do these disagreements actually tell us about gender and household behavior? Our recent paper (forthcoming in Economic Development Cultural Change) addresses this question with data from Bangladesh, arguing that disagreement indicates asymmetric information between spouses in the form of hidden assets or decisions. In other words, wives may own assets or make decisions that their husbands are unaware of.

Using husband/wife pairs interviewed for the first round of the Bangladesh Integrated Household Survey, we evaluated two questions that are often used as proxies of bargaining power: Who in the household owns assets and who makes decisions. We considered the full range of assets and decisions included as part of IFPRI’s Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI).

Though the survey allowed for a range of responses to these questions, we focused on whether the wife was reported to have a role (either alone or jointly with another person) in owning the asset or making the decision. This simplification reduced noise in the responses, and allowed us to focus on the role of the wife. We analyzed four categories of responses: The couple agrees that the wife does not have a role, the couple agrees that the wife has a role, the wife reports that she has a role and the husband does not, and the husband reports that the wife has a role and the wife does not.

Photo credit: M. Yousuf Tushar/WorldFish

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