The Quality of Family Relationships and Its Effect on Women’s Agency in India

Keera Allendorf, University of Wisconsin at Madison

Empowering women is seen as both a development goal in itself and a way to improve the health and broader well-being of families. However, the family context of women’s agency has not been adequately addressed. The quality of family relationships – particularly positive aspects, like affection and support – may be an important determinant of women’s agency. Using the Women’s Reproductive Histories Survey, I find that women with higher quality family relationships do have greater agency. Specifically, women in nuclear families score higher on an agency index when they see their natal families more often and have closer relationships with their husbands. Similarly, women in joint families who have closer relationships with their husbands and fewer difficulties with their in-laws have greater agency. Further, the size of these effects are often just as large, if not larger, than more commonly discussed sources of agency, such as education and age.

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Presented in Session 10: Empowerment, Agency and Gender Dynamics