Polygamous Households and Intrahousehold Decision-Making: Evidence and Policy Implications from Mali and Tanzania

Anderson, C. Leigh / Reynolds, Travis / Biscaye, Pierre / Greenaway, Melissa / Merfeld, Joshua

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Except for the rare household in which spousal preferences and access to resources are identical, crafting development policy to improve women’s or children’s outcomes requires understanding intrahousehold bargaining and decision-making. Who has the authority to make decisions that direct the allocation of household members’ time, money, and other resources will have implications for individual and household outcomes. If a wife has different preferences than her husband, her control or lack of control over household resources can have an impact on the family’s consumption choices – and exactly what she chooses to spend those resources on can alter household welfare substantially. This paper contributes to the literature on intra-household decision-making by analyzing how characteristics of monogamous and polygamous households in Mali and Tanzania affect women’s share of decision-making authority, using a unique dataset that surveys husbands and wives separately. We find that while men do not report having more authority in polygamous households, women report having less authority, which suggests this authority may be shared by different wives in polygamous households. Second, we find some evidence that the correlates of decision-making power, notably health and education, vary by polygamy status. Finally, we find that the identity of the respondent matters for our conclusions, with differences in women’s control over decision-making as reported by women compared to by their male spouses. These findings suggest that the most effective policies to improve household outcomes may differ for polygamous households versus monogamous ones. Specifically, if women’s exit options are limited or weakened in a household with multiple wives, some interventions may be more effective if targeted at women in monogamous households but men in polygamous households. Finally, policies targeting women may need to consider the types of decisions that women are most likely to have influence over, given surrounding social norms.

Issue Date
APPAM(Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management)
Conf. Name
2016 APPAM International Conference - Inequalities: Addressing the Growing Challenge for Policymakers Worldwide
Clement House, 3rd Floor, Room 04 (London School of Economics)
Conference Date
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