Munich Personal RePEc Archive

Distribution of power within the household and child health

Thomas, Duncan and Contreras, Dante and Frankerberg, Elizabeth (2002): Distribution of power within the household and child health.

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Recent research suggests that household decision-making may be influenced by the relative power of husbands and wives. But, empirical measurement of relative power has been extremely difficult. Using data that were specially collected to address this issue, the value of resources that husbands and wives brought to the marriage are treated as an indicator of economic independence and, therefore, relative power within a marriage. The concept of individual ownership of premarital assets is particularly germane in Indonesia, our study site. Among Javanese families, it is an important and longstanding tradition that resources brought to the marriage by an individual are retained under her (or his) control. Our empirical results indicate that child health is influenced by the relative asset positions of parents at the time they were married, even after controlling current household resources. This suggests that relative power does affect resource allocation within household. Exploiting the fact that there we have multiple measures of child health, we test the hypothesis that it would be possible to re-allocate resources so that at least one household member may be better off without someone else being worse off. We reject this hypothesis and conclude that policies that seek to re-allocate resources within households may not be effective without fundamental shifts in the distribution of power between men and women within the society.

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