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Takeaways from twenty years of gender and rural development research at IFPRI: Household decision making and women’s control over resources

Returning back home after working in field at Khagrachari, Bangladesh. Photo: Farha Khan. Source: Flickr (IFPRI Images)

Returning back home after working in field at Khagrachari, Bangladesh. Photo: Farha Khan. Source: Flickr (IFPRI Images)

The following blog by IFPRI gender experts Sophie Theis, Agnes Quisumbing, and Ruth Meinzen-Dick is the first in a four-part series leading up to the Policy Seminar on “Beijing +20 and Beyond: How Gender Research Is Changing the Landscape of Food Policy,” to be held on October 14, 2015 at IFPRI’s Washington, DC headquarters. The blog was originally posted on IFPRI.org.

It’s been twenty years since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action launched an agenda for gender equality as a human right, a condition for social justice, and a “necessary and fundamental prerequisite for equality, development, and peace.” Beijing set its sights on removing all barriers for women’s equal participation in public and private spheres. The past twenty years have provided the opportunity for significant learning about how to do so, in a vast range of “spheres.”

In this context of looking back to look forward, we take stock of research at IFPRI over the past 20 years that contributed to advancing gender equality by generating evidence from action, and compelling action from the evidence produced. See full list of publications (PDF 94K).

In this blog series, we review key takeaways from the last 20 years of IFPRI gender research. This first blog of four explores two early themes of IFPRI gender research:

  • unpacking the “black box” of household decision making
  • understanding the impact of resources controlled by women

Tune in to the next post in the blog series to see how gender research at IFPRI has evolved since then, and join us on October 14th for an IFPRI policy seminar celebrating Beijing+20.

Most of the articles are published in peer-reviewed journals, but the hyperlinks provided go to the open access versions of the publications, except where noted with an asterisk.

Household decision making: unpacking the “black box”:

  • Men and women within households do not make decisions “as one”; they do not always pool resources or have the same preferences.  Therefore, it matters who within the household is targeted for development interventions (Haddad et al. 1997); increasing women’s control of resources is associated with better education, health, and nutrition outcomes for children (Quisumbing, ed. 2003).  These findings from IFPRI’s gender research are used to draw out Implications for practitioners and policymakers across a wide range of programmatic areas in Quisumbing and McClafferty (2006).
  • Across societies as diverse as Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Indonesia, and South Africa, assets at marriage influence men’s and women’s bargaining power within marriage.  In Bangladesh and South Africa, women’s assets increase expenditure shares on education, while in Ethiopia, men’s assets have this effect (Quisumbing and Maluccio 2003)*.
  • Bargaining power affects some, but not all, aspects of individual welfare within the household (Fafchamps, Kebede, Quisumbing 2009). In Ethiopia, the relative nutritional status of spouses is associated with differences in cognitive ability, independent income and asset devolution upon divorce. Women’s empowerment benefits child nutrition and education. All in all, bargaining power may be weakly associated with some aspects of intrahousehold welfare because surveyed households are poor and have little room for disagreement over consumption.

Human capital and resources controlled by women:

  • An important example of evidence to action, in 1997 the Government of Mexico, drew on the findings from the intrahousehold literature that resources under women’s control are important for child welfare for the design and implementation of PROGRESA (now called Oportunidades).  PROGRESA was a large, conditional cash transfer program targeting transfers to the mother within the household, conditional on children attending school and going to health clinics.  A subsequent evaluation of PROGRESA showed the program increased enrollment rates in secondary education for girls and yields positive impacts on child health and nutrition, educational attainment, and lifetime earnings of the poor (Skoufias 2001).
  • The findings of the evaluation of PROGRESA, in turn, influenced other countries to follow suit.  InConditional Cash Transfers in Latin America, Adato and Hoddinott (2010) analyze evidence from case studies of CCTs in Brazil, Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua, considering their costs, impacts on education, health, nutrition, and food consumption, and how CCT programs affect social and gender relations.
  • Hallman (2003) finds that in Bangladesh, maternal and paternal shares of assets acquired before and during marriage have different impacts on boys’ and girls’ health.  A higher share of current assets held by fathers reduces boys’ illness days, while a higher share of pre-wedding assets held by mothers’ reduces girls’ morbidity.

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Upcoming Publication: Girls Grow: A Vital Force in Rural Economies

An upcoming report by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Girls Grow: A Vital Force in Rural Economies will evaluate the role of adolescent girls in the developing world and identify opportunities for national governments and bilateral donors to equip these girls to be agents of economic and social change. This report serves as the next volume of the Girls Count series. Girls Count provides some of the first critical research specifically focused on adolescent girls in the developing world.  It demonstrates how providing support to girls ages 10-18 dramatically improves their lives – and also results in significant benefits for society as a whole.  A launch event for this publication is scheduled for early October in the United Kingdom, read more here.

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Event (online): Take part in the Population Reference Bureau’s upcoming Discuss Online “Helping Girls Attain Self-Worth and Self-Sufficiency”

When: Tuesday, April 27, 2010, 1–2 p.m. (EDT) (GMT -5)

Who: Wendy Baldwin, Vice President and Director of the Poverty, Gender, and Youth Program, Population Council

Where: Go to http://discuss.prb.org. You may submit questions in advance and during the discussion. A full transcript of the questions and answers will be posted after the discussion.

About: Adolescent girls in developing countries confront many of the same challenges as girls do around the globe. But girls in developing countries are more likely to miss out on schooling, leaving them with limited literacy. As they enter adulthood, most will need to earn money and take responsibility for themselves and their families, but they often lack the appropriate social and health assets. Girls may face social isolation—even those living in dense urban areas—and lack essential social networks. Something as simple as an identification card may elude them, leaving them with no evidence of their legitimate place in society and at risk of not qualifying for programs that could help them. A number of programs for adolescent girls within the Population Council’s Poverty, Gender, and Youth Program have sought to address these challenges. Some aim to help girls in urban slums, others reach into rural areas and communities where girls are at high risk of child marriage. These programs seek to increase girls’ skills and assets, establish their self-worth, and raise their value within their families and communities.

Population Reference Bureau

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Event (DC): An International Forum in Support of The Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship

The United Nations Development Program & The Academy for Educational Development

“Advancing the Cairo Agenda: Entrepreneurship, Education and Gender Equality in the Muslim World”

Wednesday, April 28, 2010
3:00 to 5:00 p.m.
(to be followed by a reception from 5:00 to 6:00 p.m.)

Academy Hall, Academy for Educational Development
1825 Connecticut Avenue NW, 8th Floor

In his landmark “New Beginning” speech in Cairo last June, President Barack Obama announced that the United States would host a Summit on Entrepreneurship “to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.” President Obama, together with the Department of State and the Department of Commerce, will convene the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship in Washington on April 26 and 27. Delegates from over 40 countries on five continents will participate.

In this UNDP-AED international forum, we will explore how President Obama’s Cairo priorities of entrepreneurship, education and gender equality intersect. In particular, our panelists will discuss how educational reform in the Muslim world can produce a new generation of women and men committed to business and social entrepreneurship.

Please RSVP by Monday, April 26, to undp.washington@undp.org.

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Academic Publications: Mothers’ human capital and the intergenerational transmission of poverty

CPRC working paper on: The impact of mothers’ intellectual human capital and long-run nutritional status on children’s human capital Guatemala

Jere R. Behrman
Alexis Murphy
Agnes Quisumbing
Kathryn Yount


Many prior studies find significant cross-sectional positive ordinary least squares (OLS) associations between maternal human capital (usually maternal schooling attainment) and children’s human capital (usually children’s schooling, but in some cases children’s nutritional status). This paper uses rich Guatemalan longitudinal data collected over 35 years to explore several limitations of these ‘standard’ estimates. The preferred estimates developed herein  suggest that: (1) maternal human capital is more important than suggested by the standard estimates; (2) maternal cognitive skills have a greater impact than maternal schooling attainment on children’s biological human capital; and (3) for some important indicators of children’s human capital, maternal biological capital has larger effect sizes than maternal intellectual capital (schooling and cognitive skills). These results imply that breaking the intergenerational transmission of poverty, malnutrition and intellectual deprivation through investments in women’s human capital may be more effective than previously suggested, but will require approaches that account for dimensions of women’s human capital beyond just their schooling. Effective interventions to improve women’s biological and intellectual human capital often begin in utero or in early childhood; thus, their realisation will take longer than if more schooling were the only relevant channel.

For the full paper