An Account of One's Own: Can Targeting Benefits Payments Address Social Constraints to Female Labor Force Participation

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Date and Time: 
Monday, November 7, 2016
2:00 pm – 3:30 pm
Simone G. Schaner
Dartmouth College

Although emerging economies have enjoyed robust growth in recent years, in many cases female labor force participation has remained low, or even fallen. India, where women often face highly restrictive gender norms regarding work and mobility, is a particularly stark negative outlier. In collaboration with the state government of Madhya Pradesh, we experimentally varied whether women’s wages from India’s public workfare program were deposited into female-owned bank accounts versus an account owned by the male household head. The treatment increased women’s work, both in the program and in the private sector. This occurred despite no change in market wages. The treatment effects are concentrated among two groups of women: those who had not previously worked for the program and those whose husbands disapprove of women working. These results are at odds with a model of household behavior in which labor force participation decisions solely depend on wages and own-preference for leisure. Instead, we argue that they are consistent with a model in which gender norms limit women’s labor market engagement. Our results also suggest that policies that increase women’s control over household resources can encourage labor force participation in settings where male preferences constrain female employment.