University of Maryland

Disempowered by Whom?
Gender vs. Generation in Family Decision Making

Mitali Sen, Sonya Rastogi and Reeve Vanneman
University of Maryland


The now-frequent use of decision-making questions in household surveys has greatly enhanced our understanding of gender inequalities. While much of the gender interest focuses on whether these decisions are made by the husband or the wife, in developing societies where extended families are common, senior men and women in the household often have important voices in these decisions. Our analysis disentangles the extent to which a woman is being disempowered by her husband versus others in her household. e use data from a new 40,000 household survey, the India Human Development Survey, 2004-2005, to examine how a respondent's lack of power is a function of both gender and generation. Age, a senior position in the extended family, and landlessness are all related to more decision-making power for both the wife and her husband. Labor force participation and endogamy, on the other hand, strengthen her say in decision-making relative to both her husband and her senior male in-laws. By ignoring the full dynamics of power distributions within a family, we may be conflating inequalities of gender with those of generation and thereby mis-specifying our models of empowerment.

Prepared for the Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America, Los Angeles, March 30-April 1, 2006

Draft paper (pdf 215K).

Last updated October 1, 2006
comments to: Reeve Vanneman.