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Gendered Spheres of Learning and Household Decision Making over Fertility

While men and women make joint decisions about fertility, the fact that women typically give birth may produce gendered spheres of learning about a non-trivial cost of childbearing in many settings: maternal health risk. Within couples in Zambia, husbands have lower awareness of maternal risk factors and higher demand for children. We develop an experiment to show how differential knowledge of risk can lead to persistent conflict in the household when information frictions prevent communication between spouses. Our experiment varies whether the husband or wife receives information about maternal health risk. One year post-intervention, husbands taught about such risk exhibit significant gains in knowledge, report lower demand for children, and communicate this information to their wives, who also update beliefs. Both disagreement over fertility and pregnancy fall significantly in this arm. Meanwhile, when women are taught about risk, they update beliefs but are unable to transmit the information to their husbands, so household disagreement over fertility persists. While pregnancy falls also among these couples, such a decline comes at the cost of a significant reduction in transfers to the wife and lower reported well-being. To understand the mechanisms underlying our findings, we develop a model in which information asymmetries over maternal health risk can persist in equilibrium and generate disagreement over fertility that cannot be resolved with transfers. These findings suggest that childbearing costs, particularly those borne by one party, cannot be easily communicated within the household, but appropriate targeting of information can overcome asymmetries and improve household well-being.

wp2043.pdf (2.58 MB)
Nava Ashraf
Erica Field
Alessandra Voena
Roberta Ziparo
Publication Date
May, 2023