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Cathie Marsh Institute for Social Research

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Project structure

  • Work package 1 (Lead: Neff) examines spatial and social differentiation in attitudes to women doing paid work across two districts in rural Bangladesh and rural areas within three Indian states. Change over time is assessed using secondary data, with current attitudes to gender roles measured via a new primary survey. Attitudes of both males and females over age 15, in the surveyed households, is taken into account. A well-being index will be generated, using factor analysis.
  • Work package 2 (Lead: Olsen) will explain factors influencing high and low female labour supply in India, focusing on the class differentiation of this effect, and taking account of: (a) women who work for pay or in the informal sector, (b) women who are housewives, and (c) the spouses of these women. This will incorporate a review of secondary data (using easily accessed micro data), alongside new primary survey data. Specific attention is paid to personal or household engagement in antipoverty schemes. Additionally, qualitative data is used to examine tensions and beliefs about the impact of social norms on the choices women make about their work.
  • Work package 3 (Lead: Mahmud) seeks to directly improve the working lives of women, men and children by indicating which poverty alleviation initiatives have had the strongest apparent direct and indirect impact on well-being. This utilises the well-being index (generated in WP1), using a structural equation model approach based upon the project’s primary survey. Through this process economic, labour-supply, attitude and gender role measures will be integrated.

Research takes place in two geographic areas, rural Bangladesh and rural low-income parts of India. The project has an international comparative aspect and a tight focus on the experiences of rural families, both poor and non-poor. This will assist us in the unpicking of the different roles played by contextual factors that may appear similar (notably Hindu and Muslim cultural differences, purdah and the large informal labour market). We will analyse data from each country separately before publishing comparisons, as prior experience points to several aspects that differ substantially between the two countries.

Data collection

The first part of the project involves highly qualified specialist researchers from four countries (UK, Germany, India, and Bangladesh) working together to examine changing attitudes and women's labour-force involvement over two decades. Recently developed methods of statistical analysis are applied to both a new primary survey data set and secondary survey data. The survey experts are advising on the administration of the primary survey with 600 households, in both India and Bangladesh.

In particular, two ‘mysteries’ of labour supply are interrogated:

  • What has caused so many (mainly Indian) women to apparently withdraw their labour from the labour market during the boom of 2000-2007, and what has subsequently happened up to 2013?
  • In both India and Bangladesh, which attitudes differentiate women (and men) in ways relevant to labour supply? Moreover, what is it that causes some households to withhold the paid wage labour of women to the market, while securing their availability for other forms of unpaid, informal and domestic work?

This primary survey data includes household, personal and village data-collection instruments, and contains data at two points in time within one year, allowing male-female wage differentials to be examined over a small seasonal panel. Models of labour supply are being created from this data, with the results demonstrating a greater degree of nuance than has hitherto been possible.

The second part of the project involves a mixed method analysis of attitudes on gender and work, in order to examine issues around resistance and change with respect to both women’s roles and labour profiles. This involves attitudinal data and semi-structured interviews with 80 individuals (60 men and 20 women) per country, carried out as follow-ups to the primary survey. The following themes are covered:

  • Women's work with respect to the informal/formal labour supply in each area.
  • Attitudes regarding domestic roles, and how these might shape the willingness of some women to labour outside their home.
  • How these factors present points of resistance to the supposedly more egalitarian attitudes that accompany widespread economic growth and modernisation.

The qualitative aspect of this part of the project seeks to offset a tradition in economics that utilises highly individualistic approaches when studying labour-supply of women, and focuses purely on narrowly defined ‘paid labour’.

Impact and engagement

From an academic perspective, the project represents an innovative form of interdisciplinary enquiry, integrating demography with sociology (including feminist approaches to women's work) and economics (in terms of ‘efficiency losses’, viewed in terms of how families achieve ‘distinction’ and dignity as well as well-being). This provides both a new modelling method that considers the husband-wife pair, as well as an approach capable of exposing how different poverty alleviation interventions interact with existing gender roles and norms.

The project has three pathways to non-academic impact, via:

  • Villagers and townspeople. Although not ‘action research’ per se, the approach taken is inclusive. Researchers are available for consultation, and willing to organise focus groups not for research data gathering, but for the purpose of engaging in discussion without recording so that a democratic and open setting is maintained. 
  • Policy practitioners will be consulted at least once per year, alongside stakeholder workshops involving in-country experts (and local policy practitioners by invitation.) It is hoped that through these fora, stakeholders are able to influence the questionnaire, interview plans, integration of men in the study and analysis of themes. These engagements will be followed by data confrontation workshops in the second year of the project.
  • Those involved in administering the survey and/or interviews. In-country researchers will learn enhanced fieldwork, data collection and data analysis skills. Moreover, as the project probes the changing power and autonomy of women, current gender and development policy issues will be analysed and circulated within a large and networked research team.

Data from the project (interviews and surveys) will be deposited in an anonymised format to the ESRC’s UK Data Archive, permitting those who wish to improve the targeting of poverty alleviation policies to utilise this material.