Working Papers

Sen, Mitali , Sonya Rastogi, and Reeve Vanneman. 2006. “Disempowered by Whom? Gender vs. Generation in India.” Presented at the Annual Meetings of the Population Association of America. Los Angeles, CA.


The now-frequent use of decision-making questions in household surveys has greatly enhanced our understanding of intra-household power relations. While much of the research interest in these questions has focused on the relative influence of the husband or the wife in household decision-making, in developing societies where extended families are common, senior men and women in the household often have important voices. Our analysis disentangles the extent to which a woman is being disempowered by her husband versus others (usually her in-laws) in her household. We use data from a new 41,554 household survey, the India Human Development Survey 2005, to examine how a woman'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. So, young women in landed households are disempowered more by their inlaws than by their husbands. Labor force participation and endogamy, on the other hand, strengthen her say in decision-making relative to both her husband and her senior 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.