Are women the better domestic shareholders? The impact of shocks on rural households in Bangladesh

April 24, 2014.  

A ZEF research team investigates the linkage between who owns an asset within a household and whether it is sold in response to shocks in rural Bangladesh. Our basic questions are: Does it make a difference whether the household head, his spouse, or the two of them jointly own an asset? Ultimately, the aim of the study is to contribute to the design of gender-sensitive policies and approaches aimed at protecting rural households from falling into poverty in response to shocks.

Assets: An asset or liability?
Assets are an important indicator of a household’s welfare. As such, they are often drawn down in response to shocks such as natural disasters or the death of a household member. This may push households deeper and more widely into poverty than can be measured through the direct loss of assets alone. This is especially the case if productive assets such as oxen or ploughs are concerned. Characteristics of the owner of an asset, e.g. his/her education, connectedness to other individuals who may be able to help in times of need, play a potentially large role.

ZEF’s data collection in Bangladesh
The ZEF research team started with collecting data in rural agricultural communities in Bangladesh. The same households were interviewed in 2010 and 2012, respectively. Thus, the researchers have been able to follow households and individuals and to also look at changes that occur within households in response to shocks, rather than only looking at the average effect across the sample.

Agriculture: A mainly male business
The researchers find that land is mostly owned by men, which reflects that women traditionally do not play a big role in agriculture in Bangladesh. Ownership of other types of assets, however, varies. Jewelry, for example, is generally an asset owned exclusively by the household head’s spouse. Overall, research results reflect the fact that women are only weakly involved in the direct management of profitable agricultural activities in Bangladesh. However, they bear greater responsibility for caring for dependents and household members and contributing to subsistence farming.

Gender matters
Besides studying specific types of assets (land, livestock, jewelry) we developed an index incorporating the various types of assets to gain an understanding of the overall effects of shocks. Our findings indicate that it matters who holds which assets in a household. Household heads and spouses respond differently to shocks and gender matters. Weather shocks (floods, cyclones, tornados), for example, affect assets held by males more strongly and have a weaker effect on those of spouses. In our sample, vehicles and agricultural tools appear to be important to agricultural production, determining the livelihoods of agriculture-dependent households. These tools and vehicles are often jointly held by households. It seems that together they try to keep these goods in functioning condition. These and other jointly held assets have the advantage that they are rarely drawn down in response to shocks.

Collective action

Furthermore, we are investigating the role of collective action in the way households respond to shocks. Specifically, we are studying whether risk diversification across households combined with consumption smoothing induced by group membership (for example women’s groups) is able to act as an alternative to drawing down assets in times of need.

Authors: Muntaha Rakib and Julia Matz

You can also read the article in ZEF news no. 29 here.


Julia Anna Matz

Dr. Julia Anna Matz