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McNair Scholars Program

Rebecca Hernandez


Education: Bachelor of Science in agricultural economics (August 2021)

McNair Project: Female Decision-Making Measures and Household Specialization (2020)

Mentor: Ben Schwab, Ph.D.

The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate how measures of women’s empowerment are shaped by forces of economic specialization within the household. If women face discrimination in the labor market, this discrimination makes it so that women have more efficient time allocation when working within the household versus being in the labor force outside of the household. This means the woman is primarily in charge of the household work which work, which involves raising the children, cleaning the house, and feeding the family, among other duties. Thus an increase in the number of children would increase the women’s responsibility within the household, which would give rise to a separate spheres decision making structure. The theory is tested using data on women’s participation in decision making and fertility from the IPUMS- Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) in Cameroon, Malawi, Mali, Ethiopia, and Egypt. Linear regressions are used to estimate the relationship between the number of joint decisions that are made within a household and an increase in family size.  The regressions indicate that an additional child is associated with a statistically significant decrease in joint decision making. To account for potential endogeneity concerns, results from samples with and without twins are compared. While the relationship is negative in both samples, the decrease in joint decisions in households with a twin as the last birth was 50% larger than for household with a singleton birth. The regression results for the sample with twins demonstrates having two more children compared to just one additional child doubles the per-child decrease in joint decision making. An increase in the number of children leads to a more specialized household, and shift away from unitary decision making, and a move towards a separate spheres model. My findings inform households on the impact of additional children on joint decisions which which can better inform policy issues regarding women empowerment through decision making on intrahousehold issues.