2011/2/28 Report No：10-33
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, we examine using experimental data the implications of the regional contrast in female autonomy for the efficiency of family decision-making. We take a sample of 1200 couples from one rural and one urban area 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, we find 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 our paper, we find continuing significant differences between North and South and we 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 tradeoff between autonomy and efficiency.