|Intra-household Resource Allocation: Issues and Methods for Development Policy and Planning (UNU, 1990, 204 pages)|
All development involves the introduction of some economic or environmental change to achieve certain specified outcomes. Understanding household functioning permits a more accurate evaluation of the likelihood of the outcomes. Behavioural change cannot be forced, but can be induced. It is therefore critical not only to project planning but also to the formation of effective development policy that intra-household dynamics be taken into account.
Four broad areas relating to the household must be considered when setting development goals and selecting or planning projects. These are: (1) the amount of time available to different household members for participation in the project; (2) the allocation of household tasks to different members and the degree to which these tasks are transferable among members; (3) differential access to goods, both for production and for consumption; and (4) differential control over income.
Time is a critical element in development projects. Many types of interventions affect the total amount of time available to the household or propose to alter how time is spent. It was mentioned earlier that family-planning programmes and, to a lesser degree, primary education programmes indirectly lower labour time available to the household by reducing the number of its members or their availability. It has been well documented that the labour burden per person is lower in larger households (Loose, 1980; McSweeney, 1979; Evenson et al., 1979), since (apparently) the amount of extra work involved in maintaining additional household members is smaller than their contribution. A number of studies suggest that the net contribution of labour time which children provide becomes positive as early as age six (e.g. Navera, 1978). Given the other forces which militate against limiting family size in some cultures, such as the dependence of a woman's prestige on the number of her children and the reliance on grown children's support in old age, the poor showing of many family-planning projects does not come as a surprise. Such programmes might achieve better results if the labour constraints on households could be alleviated. Fetching water, for example, is a time-consuming task in many settings, often occupying one household member close to full-time. Piped water or a conveniently located well might reduce the labour burden, creating enough slack in the system so that the loss of a child's labour for education could be absorbed. This illustrates how one apparently unrelated project could enhance the effectiveness of another.
A primary issue in any agricultural or income-generating project is whether the proposed beneficiaries have the time to participate. Examples were cited earlier of projects which failed because the additional time burden they created was unacceptable. The same consideration applies to programmes which directly provide consumption goods such as health care, supplemental food, education and training. As Rosenzweig discusses in the next chapter, one of the major conceptual contributions of the "new household economics" (Becker, 1965; Lancaster, 1966) is the recognition that consumption of goods entails two kinds of costs - the direct costs of the goods consumed and the time it takes to consume them. Goods which are ostensibly free, therefore, still have a real cost such as that of the time taken to walk to the supplemental feeding site or health clinic, or the time required to attend a training programme.
Closely related to the question of time availability is the issue of the distribution of tasks among household members. In most cultures, different kinds of work are considered suitable for different household members. These distinctions encompass the sexual division of labour as well as division by age and by status in the household. The rigidity of these distinctions is quite variable, and, with the exception of baby care and cooking, which are always women's tasks, and ploughing and land-clearing, which are usually men's, there is tremendous variability in the allocation of specific tasks between the sexes and ages from one culture to another. Attempts have been made to identify in a generally applicable way the determinants of task allocation to one sex or the other (Brown, 1970; Murdock and Provost, 1973), but these schemes do not have good predictive value, since the division of labour seems to be quite culture-specific. For example, similar tasks were allocated between the sexes differently in three ethnic groups of Nigeria (Tolley, 1978).
Nor is the division of labour immutable. Within certain limits, evidence shows that as circumstances change, so may the division of labour. Cases were already mentioned of women taking over the agricultural tasks of men who had migrated to the cities (Levine, 1966; Pala, 1978; Alberti, 1982; Reynolds, 1982). It has been argued that women can take over men's tasks more readily than men can adopt those of women (Reynolds, 1982), but changes in task allocation occur in both directions. There are numerous instances of men taking over crops formerly cultivated by women when the introduction of new technology or the development of cash markets made these crops more profitable (Burfisher and Horenstein, 1982). Considerable evidence from settings as diverse as Ethiopia, Bangladesh, and India indicate that the sexual allocation of tasks is less rigid in lower socio-economic groups where such artificial constraints on productive work are an unaffordable luxury (Taddesse, 1982; Alamgir, 1977; Mies, 1982). And certain women, such as widows and the elderly, seem to be exempt from the task limitations imposed on other women (Little, 1987). These issues are addressed in detail by Messer and SafiliosRothschild in this volume.
What is important, for planning purposes, is that particular tasks are not always transferable among household members and, once transferred, may not revert. Project planners must recognize both the barriers to task reallocation and the dangers inherent in redefining tasks as a result of a project. A number of writers (Abdullah and Zeidenstein, 1975, 1982; Chand et al., 1980; Bryson, 1981; Mitra, 1981; Burfisher and Horenstein, 1982; Acharya and Bennett, 1983) have identified the need to target women specifically in development projects and have suggested that one way to accomplish this is to implement projects which focus on women's activities or women's crops. In certain cases, this approach was tried but was unsuccessful. For instance, a project to promote marketing of rice, cassava, and melons in Nigeria, where these were traditionally subsistence crops grown by women, resulted in the crops being adopted by men (Burfisher and Horenstein, 1982). Apparently it was not the crop, but its subsistence nature, which gave it its identification with women. This shift could have been forestalled, or at least mitigated, if, for example, marketing had been through women's co-operatives. Similarly, the introduction of mechanized rice-hulling in an area of Java caused this task to be taken over by men, depriving women of an important source of cash employment (Storer, 1977).
The solution is not to withhold labour-saving innovations in areas of women's employment, but rather to introduce them in such a way that they do not shift the allocation of the task away from women. Moreover, work burdens will not necessarily be reallocated equitably. For example, in Laguna, Philippines, when women work in the market up to six hours per day, they do not reduce their work time at home (Folbre, 1984), and men do not increase their contributions to household tasks (King-Quizon, 1978).
Access to Resources
A third major concern in project planning is that household members have unequal access to the goods owned or obtained by the household. The determinants of access to consumption goods are discussed by Engle in this volume, As she points out, the concept of joint ownership by the household, rather than by individuals, is inapplicable in many settings, particularly in Africa (Guyer, 1980). Goods such as food may be distributed within the household according to accepted cultural patterns which do not match planners' preferences. The argument has been made that food, as well as other goods such as health care and education, are allocated within the household according to the perceived economic contribution of the members. The word "perceived" is critical, since much productive work, which contributes to real household income, does not enter the market sector, and thus may not be recognized in the household's structure of entitlements. Examples of this kind of work are food processing and preparation, child care, and household maintenance. This is work which conserves rather than earns income. The services provided are essential to the household and would have to be purchased from outside if they were not provided internally, but since no economic transaction takes place, the value of the service is often not recognized (Abdullah and Zeidenstein, 1975; Hogan and Tienda, 1976).
The generalization that women and children are always disfavoured in food distribution is not supported by the evidence (see, for example, Lipton, 1983). In much of sub-Saharan Africa, where women have well-defined, explicit economic roles (Guyer, 1980), they also appear to receive their fair share of food in the household (Nicol, 1959a, 1959b; McFie, 1976; Kennedy, 1988). Distribution of food within the family, however, often fails to meet the needs of all members when the quantities available are only barely adequate, and there are systematic patterns in some cultures which determine who in the household is most likely to fall short. For example, there is evidence of discrimination against women and girls in food distribution in South Asia, where women's economic roles are more circumscribed (Grewal et al., 1973). A provocative analysis of Indian census data (Rosenzweig and Schultz, 1981) found that differential allocation of resources among children was parallel to their potential economic roles. The survival of girls vis-à-vis boys, taken to reflect the distribution of food and health care, was higher in areas with significant earning opportunities for women, and lower where women had few economic options. Not surprisingly, this relationship was strongest in low-income households, where resource constraints were greatest. A parallel finding from African studies is that females apparently are favoured in household resource distribution in areas where a high brideprice is paid; where no brideprice is paid or a dowry is given, girls did not receive as large a share of the household's food. Other studies in Africa, however, have found that women do consume less than their proportionate share (Schofield, 1974/75).
This discussion underscores the importance of understanding intra-household behaviour if one is to predict the effects on individuals of policy change and programme implementation. Although much of this evidence is suggestive rather than definitive, it does imply that one policy approach which would encourage equitable distribution of resource flows inside the household is to work toward providing economic opportunities in the market sector to both women and men on an equal basis. Alleviating the burden of women's tasks inside the home, though it would provide real benefits, may not have the same effect on women's command over resources as providing work opportunities outside the home, where their economic contribution may be more visible. Certainly, current research indicates that resources provided to a family or household as a unit may not reach the target individual unless distribution patterns are taken into account.
Changes in Income
Finally, those planning development projects and guiding policy must understand the potential effect of altering the form, period, or earner of income. There is considerable evidence that all income which enters a household is not treated identically (Kumar, 1978; Guyer, 1980; Jones, 1983a). A central objective of most development policy is to raise the incomes of the poor, and generally it is recognized that programmes which expand income-earning opportunities are the most likely to generate continued, self - sustaining economic growth. But there are numerous examples of large-scale economic development projects which had unintended negative effects for some household members because they changed the form in which income was received, the period, or the earner. The Mwea-Tebere irrigated rice resettlement scheme, which disrupted many aspects of the resettled household's economy, also channelled all income through the male household head. Women felt that they had less access to and less control over the income than when they were earning their own income directly (Hanger and Moris, 1973). A plantation development project in Papua New Guinea, which raised incomes substantially but changed the economy from subsistence-based to cash, had a negative nutritional impact on children because households were unaccustomed to using scarce cash to purchase food (Lambert, 1982). Had this problem been anticipated, it could have been avoided, perhaps by incorporating a home food production component into the project.
In many studies, women report that they have much greater control over the income which they directly earn than that which is earned, for example, by their husbands (Ahmad, 1980 [Bangladesh]; Loose, 1980 [Senegal!; Roldan, 1982 [Mexico|). Anecdotal evidence (Pale, 1978; Tripp, 1981; Nelson, 1979), supported by some empirical research (Guyer, 1980), suggests that the income earned by women is disproportionately spent on food and basic household necessities, in comparison with men's income. Few studies make the point, however, that women generally work in the market out of severe economic necessity so it is not surprising that their incomes should be spent on basic needs (Singh, 1977). Kumar (1978) found in Kerala, India, that in households where women worked for wages their incomes were more highly correlated with their children's nutritional status than were total household income or men's wage income. These households, however, were poorer and had less land available to them than did those in which the women were not engaged in wage work. It is to be expected that cash-income increments will have a greater effect on child nutrition in households with the most severe resource constraints.
Moreover, the argument supporting women's spending preference for food does not always take into account how men's income would be spent in the absence of women's income. In an irrigated rice project area of Cameroon, Jones (1983a) found no significant association between the amount of rice retained for home consumption and the sex of the individual controlling the disposition of the crop. Nor was the amount of household expenditure on the sauce ingredients (to supplement the grain staple) significantly different in male- and female-headed households. Married women spent less of their own money on these items than did independent women; their husbands' contributions made up the difference. In contrast to the irrigated rice area, women in the poorest, non-rice cultivating village in the study bought the bulk of purchased grain for their households during the hungry season, using their own incomes.
Jones (1983b) also found that women preferred to maximize their own incomes rather than the total income of their households, when the two were in conflict. Once again, the important conclusion emerges that income is not entirely fungible. In designing projects and proposing broader sectoral policies to promote development, policy-makers must be alert to the possible consequences of altering the nature of income while attempting to raise it.
Defining the Household
Throughout this discussion, I have relied on an intuitive understanding of what a household actually is. This has been intentional, since the definition of the household is an intractable theoretical problem (Messer, 1983). Given the varied and complex nature of human society, no definition of the household, however general, completely fits all circumstances. One can identify a variety of functions usually associated with the household: co-residence; joint production; shared consumption; kinship links (Bender, 1967). Yet as Heywood points out in part III of this volume, these functions often define different sets of individuals. In many places, the unit of joint production consists of a different set of individuals from the food consumption unit (e.g. Dorjahn, 1977 [Sierra Leone]; Foster, 1978 [Thailand]; Longhurst, 1980 [Nigeria]). Moreover, co-residence may not always be associated with shared production or shared consumption (White, 1980). The definition of co-residence itself may not be clear where many dwelling units form a single compound (cf. Gurney and Omolalu, 1971). Migration of household members also creates ambiguities: a person may leave the household for most of the year but return to contribute labour in certain seasons, share in the product of the household of origin, and contribute remittances for the support of resident household members.
Any fixed definition of the household can create arbitrary and possibly misleading distinctions. For example, in Taiwan, the census defines a nuclear family as part of an extended family household if it receives more than 50 per cent of its income from the extended family. This tends to understate disparities in household income, since the poorest nuclear families have their incomes combined with the larger unit (Greenhalgh, 1982). Yet to exclude the extended family from the definition leaves out an important dimension of sources of support for the members of the nuclear group and vice versa.
Planners and researchers alike must accept the fact that the equivalent of the Western concept of the household does not exist in most places. Guyer's (1980) definition acknowledges the fluid nature of the boundaries separating the household from the community of which it is a part. In her words, "a household is a particularly dense center in a network of exchange relationships." Rather than force a definition on the household which has more exceptions than rules, it makes sense, as Heywood (in this volume) suggests, to define the household unit according to the particular dimension of interest, whether it be sharing of production responsibilities, common uses of income, co-residence, or the common cooking pot. Adopting a definition of the household which is inappropriate to the culture being studied may result in erroneous conclusions about household processes. For example, in some cultures, women traditionally return to their natal home to bear their first child, and remain there for several months after the birth. Resources which raise the income of the woman's affinal family would therefore have no effect on the welfare of the mother and her newborn in these early months. It would, however, be a mistake to conclude that the head of the affinal household was somehow withholding resources from his wife and child; rather, the wife is, temporarily, a member of a different household whose resources affect her level of living.
There is no doubt that organization into households is a vital survival mechanism for individuals. Where traditional households (co-residential kinship groups of various kinds) do not exist, people commonly establish reciprocal relationships with "fictive kin" who serve similar functions of mutual support and specialization of household maintenance tasks (Nieves, 1979). Regardless of how it is defined, the household is definitely not a homogeneous unit in which all members share a common set of preferences. It can better be seen as a group of people bound by an implicit contract which specifies the rights and obligations of each member. As in conventional contracts, the balance of rights and obligations is determined in part by the alternatives available to each member and in part by their relative power. Thus Jones (1983a) found that married women in Cameroon provided their husbands with labour at below-market wage rates. Although these women could not completely refuse to work out of fear of being beaten, they worked less for their husbands than did wives who were paid a higher wage. Moreover, they spent the balance of their time working on crops which were less profitable, but whose profit they personally controlled. Similarly, within the Moslem Hausa conjugal unit in northern Nigeria (Longhurst, 1980), labour and goods are often exchanged for cash, rather than pooled and redistributed according to need. Jelín, in this volume, describes an example of how the consumption preferences of individuals within households conflict with one another.
A cultural component is inherent in the nature of what might be called the household contract. A strong tradition exists in Africa of separate economic spheres of activity for men and women, with considerable independence for each (Guyer, 1980). But even in a traditionally patriarchal Asian society such as Bangladesh, economic forces affect the balance of decision-making power in the household. Women who bring in wage income have a greater influence on how the income is spent than do those who work only in the home (Alamgir, 1977). That traditional patterns are in fact mutable is significant for development policy. It demonstrates that cultural factors are not an absolute constraint on behaviour, and that economic forces can generate lasting change and progress. This underscores the importance of identifying patterns of household behaviour because those patterns are indeed subject to outside influence. Jelín, in this volume, details some of the negative consequences these influences have if they are not explicitly taken into account in development policy.