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Women as agents of change: Female income and mobility in India

Authors
Disciplines
  • Economics

Abstract

Economic globalization will give many women in developing countries access to steady and relatively remunerative employment for the first time, potentially shifting bargaining power within their households and changing the choices that are made for their children. This paper exploits a unique setting -- a group of tea plantations in South India where women are employed in permanent wage labor and where incomes do not vary by caste -- to anticipate the impact of globalization on mobility across social groups in the future. The main result of the paper is that a relative increase in female income weakens the family's ties to the ancestral community and the traditional economy, but these mobility enhancing effects are obtained for certain historically disadvantaged castes alone. Although the paper provides a context-specific explanation for why the women from these castes emerge as agents of change, the first general implication of the analysis is that the incentive and the ability of women to use their earnings to influence household decisions depends importantly on their social background. The second implication is that historically disadvantaged groups may, in fact, be especially responsive to new opportunities precisely because they have fewer ties to the traditional economy to hold them back.

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