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Abstract

Our detailed survey of farming households in the rural Philippines reveals widespread and systemic spousal disagreement on decision-making, a phenomenon reflected in similar surveys throughout the world. Using original qualitative and quantitative data, we explore the following research questions: first, what are the drivers of disagreement in spousal reports of decision-making? Second, we explore the empowerment angle by asking what is the relationship between decision-making and empowerment? The measurement of women’s empowerment in agriculture and the household has traditionally used women’s self-reported participation in decision-making as an indicator of household power, and joint decision-making is often used as a targeted outcome in development efforts. However, spousal surveys across a variety of contexts have revealed high levels of disagreement between spouses about decision-making authority. Although women’s decision-making power has been associated in some studies with better household outcomes, the conceptual and evidential links between decision-making and empowerment have been called into question. Our work adds to the literature on the measurement of decision-making and disagreement, and on the links between decision-making power and empowerment writ large. Our quantitative analysis uses data from a spousal survey of agricultural households in the rural Philippines, primarily on the island of Mindanao. Part of a larger study on land tenure, respondents were asked about decisions in a variety of agricultural domains, as well as household matters. We capture respondents’ agency through the locus of control and Relative Autonomy Index (RAI) scales. Qualitative data come from a follow-up round of semi-structured interviews focusing on the decision-making process. We exploit the detailed decision-making questionnaire to test for different drivers of decision-making, namely differing interpretations of decision-making, differing frames of reference, and social desirability bias. To test for the relationship between decision-making and empowerment, we regress various aspects of decision-making power on the respondents’ motivational autonomy. Our follow-on qualitative interviews provide more detail on differing interpretations of decision-making, and the social norms regarding decision-making in our sample population. We find evidence that differing gendered interpretations of what it means to be a decision maker are a driver of spousal disagreement on decision-making, with women more likely to report themselves as joint decision-makers as long as they are included in a conversation. Qualitative work suggests a strong social norm towards a consultative decision-making process, further obscuring the differences between interpretations of sole and joint decision-making and increasing measurement error. We also find limited evidence of social desirability bias as a driver of measurement error. We find the being a decision-maker is not associated with higher overall autonomy. However, the ability to make one’s own personal decisions, and the level of input on decisions, are well-correlated with motivational autonomy. Our findings indicate that simple binary outcomes of sole and joint decision-making obscure important elements of the decision process, suggesting the need for a more nuanced and context-specific measurement of process and intent if it is to be used as an indicator or outcome.

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