BREAD Working Paper No. 541, Feburary 2018

Worth Fighting For: Daughters Improve their Mothers’ Autonomy in South Asia

Rachel Heath, Xu Tan


In South Asia, parents prize sons for both economic and cultural reasons, and hav- ing a son is often thought to improve his mother’s status within the household. How- ever, using data from Bangladesh and India, we show that such high regard does not necessarily translate into improved autonomy for her. In fact, a daughter raises her mother’s participation in household decisions and her freedom of mobility relative to a son. A daughter also prompts her mother to work more, but not necessarily to con- sume more. These effects are strongest among mothers of older girls. These results are consistent with a theoretical model in which mothers have greater relative prefer- ences for spending on their daughters than fathers do, and so seek more autonomy to direct resources to their daughters.

Keywords: Female autonomy, child gender, intra-household bargaining, female labor supply

JEL codes: J22, O12, J16, D13