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Women's Agency and Women's Employment: How Women's Sense of Agency Affects Their Labor Supply

Women in poor countries exercise little agency. I investigate whether agency is constrained by women’s beliefs in their general ability to reach goals, beliefs referred to as generalized self-efficacy (GSE). I study agency in decisions about women’s labor supply in India, a setting where women’s employment is low, women have little say over their labor supply, and many women are interested in working. My experiment offered women a psychosocial intervention to raise GSE. I cross-randomized a video promotion of women’s work for women’s family members. The GSE intervention produced a persistent increase in GSE. The promotion made family members see more financial value in women working, but reduced women’s interest in working. Effects on women’s employment in the short-run are consistent with GSE treatment leading women to advocate in their households for their preferred outcome; GSE treatment had a positive effect when the promotion was not given but a negative effect when it was. There are no effects on long-run employment, perhaps because household chores made women’s work unsustainable. I do find effects of GSE treatment on another economic outcome - saving - did persist. Taken together, my results suggest a key constraint to women’s agency is women’s own sense of agency.

wp1083.pdf (5.4 MB)
Madeline McKelway
Publication Date
January, 2021