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Mother’s autonomy and child’s secondary schooling enrollment in Mexico


We extend the literature on female autonomy along two dimensions. We first develop a new, direct female autonomy index using survey responses of spouses to a variety of household decision-making questions. We then examine the effects of a mother’s autonomy on her child’s secondary enrollment. We find that our measure is consistent with some of the existing autonomy measures, and that higher autonomy of mothers is correlated with higher secondary enrollment for boys, but not girls. Our results are robust to a range of sensitivity tests.

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  1. In this paper we use the term “autonomy” interchangeably with “bargaining-power”, “empowerment” or “decision-making power”.

  2. (Reggio 2011; Jensen and Oster 2009; Pitt et al. 2006) do use direct autonomy measures, but their focus and methodology are different.

  3. Strictly speaking, some aspects of this survey such as asking the same questions to both spouses are uncommon in other surveys. Moreover, one should be careful in using survey questions (and resultant operationalized variables in empirical analysis) from one survey to another as underlying social, cultural, political and economic realities may be different. The main point we are making here is that women empowerment questions such as these are becoming more and more common in household surveys allowing other researchers to create such measures. For example, Demographic Health Surveys (DHS) in several countries have been asking these questions for all its rounds in several countries. However, DHS asks these decision questions only to the female members of a family. In this paper we use female and mother interchangeably since we restrict our sample of children whose both parents are alive. The idea of using principal components for constructing an autonomy index can be extended to any woman within a family.

  4. Changing one decision leads to a change in the value of the index leading to a change in outcome variable. This is discussed in detail in Sect. 5.

  5. The survey simply reports the identity of the household without discussing how such determination is made. Most of the female headed households in our data have widowed heads and very few have children. This preempts us from doing a separate analysis by household-head gender. Instead we control for the gender of the head in all our regressions.

  6. Since our dependent variable is binary, using an individual fixed-effects model is problematic as pointed out by Fernández-Val (2009). Further, in order to identify the within family effect, one would need to see two children in the family facing the enrollment decision, one in 2002, and one in 2005.

  7. To check the sensitivity of our results to alternative age groups, we also estimated the same model for a sample of 12–14 year olds. The results are qualitatively similar to our main specification—higher autonomy for mothers leads to an increase in enrollment for younger boys only.

  8. To see this, note that from (1),

    \(MAI = \sum _{i} w^{i}(d_{3}^{i}-\overline{d_{3}^{i}})= \sum _{i} w^{i}d_{3}^{i}-\sum _{i} w^{i}\overline{d_{3}^{i}}\)

    Let us consider the category education (i=5).

    In this category, \(w_{5}=0.87\) (from author’s calculation). If \(d_{3}^{5}\) changes from 1 to 3 (decision taken by father alone to decision taken by mother alone), then MAI increases by 0.87*2 = 1.8 units. To see the eventual impact on enrollment, let us consider the estimated marginal effect for boys in column 3 of Table 4—a 1 point increase in MAI results in a 1.1 % point increase in the enrollment rate. Therefore, a switch in decision-making power, for child’s education, from the father to the mother leads to approximately 2 (1.8 × 1.1) % points increase in the probability of secondary school enrollment.

  9. See Jensen and Oster (2009), among others.

  10. We define high autonomy as households falling above the median of the autonomy index distribution and low as households below the median.

  11. A mean comparison across the treatment and control groups on the common support reveals no significant differences between these households in any observed characteristic. Table available upon request from the authors.

  12. Note, however, that those magnitudes, at the extensive margin, are not directly comparable to the magnitudes obtained in our baseline specification, at the intensive margin.


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We thank the seminar and conference participants at ISI Delhi, Delhi School of Economics, PAA 2012 and the 9th WB/IZA Conference on Employment and Development for their helpful comments and feedback. We are grateful to Paul Dower, Sonia Oreffice and three anonymous referees for providing helpful suggestions. We also thank the support team of Mexico Family Life Survey for answering all our queries.

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Correspondence to Tanika Chakraborty.

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Chakraborty, T., De, P.K. Mother’s autonomy and child’s secondary schooling enrollment in Mexico. Rev Econ Household 15, 1037–1053 (2017).

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  • Female autonomy
  • Principal component
  • Education
  • matching
  • Disagreement

JEL Classifications

  • D1
  • I28
  • J10