Improving Assessments of Gender Bargaining Power: A Case Study from Bangladesh

Mieke Meurs and Rita Ismaylov

Gender bargaining power has entered into mainstream economic theory and public policy. However, common empirical measures are only loosely related to the theoretical concept, and research has not produced consistent results regarding the causal chains underlying women’s empowerment. This study critically examines accepted measures of bargaining power, arguing that participation in specific household decisions is not directly associated with the theoretical concept of bargaining power. The study analyzes the relationship between measures of participation in household decisions and individual and household characteristics thought to contribute to bargaining power. Using Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) data on Bangladesh over the period 1999–2011, the study finds that despite the loose relationship of the survey questions to the theoretical construct bargaining power, the decision-making questions provide relatively consistent and theoretically supported measures of this unobservable characteristic. Simple changes in using the measures would contribute to more robust and consistent findings.

To view the full text of this article or book review, please see our instruction on accessing the publisher's website.