Spousal Control and Efficiency of Intra-household Decision-Making: Experiments among Married Couples in India, Ethiopia and Nigeria

  • Arjan VerschoorEmail author
  • Bereket Kebede
  • Alistair Munro
  • Marcela Tarazona
Original Article


Given the importance of the household as a resource allocation mechanism, considerable interest exists in its efficiency. Most of the non-experimental evidence for inefficiency comes from West African farm households in which husbands and wives pursue separate productive activities. Using experiments, we test for efficiency of spouses’ resource allocation decisions in a range of household types. In North India, we select households that are unified, in northern Nigeria households characterised by separate spheres of economic decision-making. Our other sites occupy carefully selected intermediate positions on the spectrum from unitary to separate-spheres household types. We find that, the more separate the decision-making in real life, the less efficient the resource allocation in the experiments. Moreover, female control of resource allocation tends to lower efficiency, in contrast to male control. The exception is a site in northern Nigeria where female control of resource allocation is well established.


Intra-household efficiency Spousal control Economic experiments India Ethiopia Nigeria 


Étant donné l’importance du “ménage” en tant que mécanisme d’allocation des ressources, son efficacité suscite un intérêt considérable. La plupart des preuves non expérimentales de son inefficacité proviennent de ménages agricoles d'Afrique de l'Ouest dans lesquels les maris et les femmes exercent des activités productives distinctes. À l'aide d'expérimentations, nous testons l'efficacité des décisions d'allocation de ressources des conjoints dans divers types de ménages. En Inde du Nord, nous avons sélectionné des ménages unitaires, et dans le nord du Nigéria, des ménages caractérisés par des sphères de décision économique distinctes. Nos autres sites occupent des positions intermédiaires soigneusement sélectionnées sur le spectre allant du ménage unitaire au ménage distinct. Nous constatons que plus la prise de décision est séparée dans la vie réelle, moins l'allocation de ressources est efficace dans le cadre de l’expérimentation. De plus, un contrôle de l'allocation des ressources par les femmes a tendance à réduire l'efficacité du ménage, contrairement à un contrôle par les hommes. Une exception a été trouvée dans un site du nord du Nigéria, où le contrôle de l'allocation des ressources par les femmes est bien établi.



We thank Cecile Jackson, Andreas Kutka, Dominique Lussier and Nitya Rao for comments and for help in identifying literature to guide our site selection; for institutional support for the fieldwork, Dr Assefa Admassie, Director of the Ethiopian Economics Association, Prof. Amaresh Dubey, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and Dr Haruna Wakilli, Director of Mammbayya House, Centre for Democratic Research & Training, Kano, Nigeria; for organising and implementing data collection, our fieldwork manager, Matthew Osborne, supervisors Dr Andreia Miraldo (Ethiopia and Nigeria), Dr Joe Hill (Ethiopia), Kabiru Bello (Nigeria), Dr Biswarupa Gosh, Dr Pradip K. Sen, and Dr Anup K. Mishra (Uttar Pradesh), Dr R. Naagarajan (Tamil Nadu) and all local research assistants; for helpful comments, participants in seminars at the Chief Economist’s Office at the Department for International Development (DFID), UK and in a CBESS/BEDERG seminar at the University of East Anglia, UK; for the joint grant (RES-167-25-0251), UK’s ESRC and DFID.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there are no conflicts of interest.

Supplementary material

41287_2019_206_MOESM1_ESM.docx (29 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 29 kb)


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Copyright information

© European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes (EADI) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Arjan Verschoor
    • 1
    Email author
  • Bereket Kebede
    • 1
  • Alistair Munro
    • 2
  • Marcela Tarazona
    • 3
  1. 1.School of International DevelopmentUniversity of East AngliaNorwichUK
  2. 2.National Graduate Institute for Policy StudiesTokyoJapan
  3. 3.Oxford Policy ManagementOxfordUK

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