Economic theories of the family and gender discrimination within the family are examined in the context of Kondh dominated tribal villages in rural western Orissa, India, drawing on results from a survey of 106 wives. The survey involved direct interviews using a structured questionnaire. This article examines the relevance of economic unitary and bargaining theories of the family in this social context, drawing on background literature. Using the survey results, socioeconomic influences on the status of wives within their families are analysed and the entitlements of female and male children are compared and analysed. Because of cultural embedding, it is suggested that the relevance of economic theories of the family depend significantly on cultural context. In many cases, it seems that poverty has a negative influence on the social empowerment of females but it is not the only influence nor always a sufficient condition for discrimination against females.