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Widowhood and Consumption of Private Assignable Goods: The Role of Socio-Economic Status, Rainfall Shocks and Historical Institutions

  • Economics Discussion Papers
  • December 6, 2021
  • Sutirtha Bandyopadhyay, Bipasha Maity

We study how weather shocks interact with cultural norms biased against women to affect female poverty within the household. Using expenditure on female assignable clothing per adult woman as a measure of women's intra-household access to consumption, we document that spending on female assignable goods is lower in households with at least one widowed woman relative to households with no widows in India. However, selection into widowhood appears to be plausibly random and economic hardship on account of death of a male member is unlikely to explain why households with a widow have lower spending on female assignable goods. We then study how rainfall shocks influence the spending on female assignable goods by the presence of a widow in the household. We find that although beneficial rainfall shocks increase overall spending on female assignable goods; this increase is lower in households with a widow. We obtain opposite findings for spending on male assignable goods. We find that regions where widow persecution was widespread historically are associated with poorer outcomes for widows at present. Our analysis shows that persistence in historical norms can potentially prevent women from realizing gains in access to consumption resources within the household even in the event of beneficial environmental shocks.

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