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What really empowers women? Taking another look at economic empowerment


The gender inequality gap has widened in recent years, despite significant global awareness and efforts to address the issue. This indicates the possibility that there is still uncertainty about the selection of the most important levers for reducing gender inequality. While economic empowerment has been analysed and discussed as an important input into women’s empowerment, evidence remains inconclusive and interventions sparse, especially in the context of large populous lower middle-income countries like India. The paper examines the impact of economic empowerment on a woman’s overall ability to take decision using data from the National Family Health Survey in India. Data on decision-making, economic empowerment and other socioeconomic variables of currently married women, aged 15–49 years, are used to analyse to whether and to what extent economic empowerment has an impact on women’s agency. Nine decision-making areas were used cumulatively in an ordered logit model, and the results indicated that economic empowerment was important in improving women’s decision-making abilities, including other key variables on the socioeconomic status of the women. The results imply that while education would remain a key policy tool, policies on women’s empowerment need to incorporate programmes and interventions on women’s economic empowerment, and programmes guaranteeing women employment and focusing on their employment conditions need to get much higher budget allocations within the government’s overall budget.

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Fig. 1

Source: ILO

Fig. 2

Source: Human Development Report 2020 [3]

Data availability

The National Family Health Survey (Round 4, 2015–16) data that support the findings of this study are available from the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) programme.


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The study did not need approval from an ethics committee/institutional review board as it is based on secondary data that is freely available for public use.

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IG conceived and designed the study. AR carried out the data extraction and manipulation. Analysis was carried out by IG and AR. IG and AR wrote and edited drafts of the manuscripts. IG finalized the paper.

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Correspondence to Indrani Gupta.

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Indrani Gupta and Arjun Roy declare that that they have no conflict of interest.

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Gupta, I., Roy, A. What really empowers women? Taking another look at economic empowerment. J. Soc. Econ. Dev. (2022).

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  • Gender inequality
  • Decision-making
  • Economic empowerement
  • Employment