|Intra-household Resource Allocation: Issues and Methods for Development Policy and Planning (UNU, 1990, 204 pages)|
|I. Conceptual frameworks|
BEATRICE LORGE ROGERS
Tufts University School of Nutrition, Medford, Massachusetts, USA
NINA P. SCHLOSSMAN
Office of Nutrition, US Agency for International Development, Washington, D.C., USA
The papers in part I present three frameworks for studying the household, derived from the disciplines of economics, anthropology, and psychology. Rosenzweig, in his paper, stresses the importance of constructing a model of the household which contains measurable variables, and which leads to the development of testable hypotheses about the determinants of different patterns of intra-household allocation. His economic model of the household rests on the concept of a "unified household preference function," a model of household behaviour that suggests that the household, at least from the outside observer's point of view, allocates resources among its members according to some jointly held set of allocative rules.
Both Messer and Engle criticize the unified household model as a misrepresentation of reality: they argue that allocation rules are the result of conflict and conflict resolution based on different members' power and influence within the household. In fact, the unified household model does acknowledge the importance of the varying characteristics of each member. Moreover, it does not suggest that the behavioural outcome, a set of implicit rules for the allocation of resources, is reached without conflict. The model simply does not address the interpersonal dynamics by which the household preference function emerges. It does, however, include individual-level variables which have been identified as important determinants of household preferences, provided they are measurable characteristics (such as earning power). Rosenzweig acknowledges that the idea of a joint household welfare function "does violence to reality," but suggests that the conflict resolution model must be shown to predict distinct outcomes before it can prove its value empirically.
Behrman's comment on Rosenzweig's economic model introduces the idea, developed further by Engle, that it would be useful to identify the allocative rules for different types of households and individuals, and what determines the choice of a rule. Behrman distinguishes allocation based on equity (each member is entitled to a fair share of any resource), equal outcome (resources are distributed in such a way as to equalize the welfare of members, so that the least endowed member might receive the most), fair return (each member is entitled to resources in proportion to his/her material contribution to the household), and maximization (members most likely to benefit from a resource are given the largest share). This latter rule may produce the greatest inequality among members, while maximizing returns to the household as a whole. Moreover, different rules may be followed for different resources (e.g. health care may be allocated equally among children while only the brightest child might be sent to school), and households facing different kinds of constraints may follow different rules. For example, households under severe resource constraints may try to maximize the household's resources at a cost to the welfare of some members, while households with relatively abundant resources may follow an equal-share or equal-outcome strategy.
Messer, writing from the perspective of anthropology, stresses the importance of understanding household behaviour from the point of view of the people being studied (the emic perspective), as well as in the outsider's, objectively measurable terms (the etic perspective). Messer and then Engle argue that the subjective meanings inherent in behaviour must be taken into account in project planning because they affect the ways in which households and individuals respond to a changed environment. They hold that knowledge of how the local population perceives a given activity or resource will be invaluable in predicting whether people will accept the changes effected by a project, and whether new resources will be used in the manner anticipated by its planners.
Messer further cautions that cultural rules and practices, and culturally determined systems of rights and obligations, condition the acceptance (or rejection) of new forms of behaviour and new relationships resulting from project-induced changes. The culture is the context into which programmes are introduced. Programmes which distort existing patterns (e.g. introducing a new technology which results in devaluation of the older generation's knowledge and skills) may engender resistance or, worse, may disrupt the culture in profound, unanticipated ways.
The economic approach to analysis typically depends on a model of behaviour that has already been formulated. The ethnographic method is less structured, more openended. This approach, commonly used by anthropologists, is therefore particularly well-suited to identifying variables whose importance might not have been revealed without a sensitivity to the culture. Cultural constraints on behaviour are, in fact, concrete and measurable variables. Once their existence has been documented, it is possible to incorporate them into a more formal model such as Rosenzweig's. For example, certain categories of people (the elderly, women, children) may be prohibited from engaging in specific types of labour. Returns to human capital such as education may also differ among groups. These cultural variables can be modelled by introducing, for instance, separate imputed wage rates for males and females of equal skill level, or by distinguishing several categories of market labour time. The anthropological approach clearly does not conflict with the economic, but complements it by focusing attention on important variables which may have been missed in a purely economic framework. Including these variables ensures a more accurate and complete model of household behaviour.
Engle emphasizes that the important contribution of psychology is the recognition of individual psychological characteristics as determinants of behaviour. She posits that personality may be a significant factor in both control over resource allocation and access to consumption goods. One empirical application of this perception is that personality characteristics themselves may be affected by externally introduced changes. If, for instance, women are given income-earning opportunities outside the home, they may develop greater self-esteem, which in turn may increase their ability and willingness to influence allocation decisions.
Engle stresses the conflict-resolution model rather than the unified household model of intra-household allocation, noting that household priorities may be influenced by individual members in a variety of ways. Members with the power to enforce their preferences may coerce, but household members without authority can still exercise influence through their own special knowledge and expertise, by persuasion, or by quiet resistance. Engle also distinguishes between the power to influence allocation decisions and the access to consumption goods and productive resources.
Both Messer and Engle discuss the widely held notion that resources under the control of women are more likely to be used to enhance child welfare (through the purchase of food, health care, and other basic needs) than are resources controlled by men. Engle offers a psychological explanation for this phenomenon, based on the closer relationship and greater degree of bonding between mothers and their children than between fathers and children. She cautions, however, that this theory has not yet been empirically tested in a rigorous manner.
These papers taken together underscore the need for integrating a wide variety of types of information in order to achieve a complete understanding of patterns of intrahousehold resource allocation. Rosenzweig emphasizes that models of the household are only useful if they help to predict behaviour. If two alternative explanations of an observed phenomenon are equally plausible and cannot be distinguished in practice, then, he suggests, it does not matter for planning purposes which one is in operation.
Both Engle and Messer suggest, to the contrary, that comprehending the subjective perceptions of a target population is essential precisely because these perceptions do affect behaviour. Moreover, cultural perceptions of mutual obligations may result in dispersion of some programme benefits beyond the target household or individual for which or whom it was intended. The psychological consequences of changing accepted lines of authority in the household may lead to resistance, conflict, or even violence. The outsider's (etic) perception of efficiency in the use of a resource may conflict with the native's (emic) perception of individual rights to its use. In such cases, it is essential to know both perspectives in order to assess the desirability and the likely adoption of a change.
The economic and material, the cultural, and the psychodynamic perspectives each furnish elements instrumental to the analysis of intra-household allocation processes. Operational definitions of psychological and cultural constructs may be difficult to derive, but recognizing their importance in shaping intra-household behaviour is the first step in solving the measurement problem. The very different approaches implied by these papers are not irreconcilable. On the contrary, they complement each other in developing a complete understanding of current intra-household allocation practices, and of the likely directions for change.