Title Page
 Table of Contents
 Executive summary
 Importance of household dynamics...
 Ways of incorporating concern for...
 Time availability
 Task allocation
 Access to resources
 Changes in income
 Methodological issues in the study...
 Directions for future research

Group Title: Nutrition and development project paper ; no. 83-2
Title: The internal dynamics of households
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00072506/00001
 Material Information
Title: The internal dynamics of households a critical factor in development policy
Series Title: Nutrition and development project paper
Physical Description: 44 p. : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Rogers, Beatrice Lorge
United States -- Agency for International Development. -- Bureau for Program and Policy Coordination
Publisher: Agency for International Development
Place of Publication: Washington D.C
Publication Date: 1983
Subject: Finance, Personal   ( lcsh )
Genre: federal government publication   ( marcgt )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Bibliography: Bibliography: p. 38-44.
Statement of Responsibility: Beatrice Lorge Rogers.
General Note: "October 1983"
General Note: Prepared for the Agency for International Development, Bureau for Program and Policy Coordination.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00072506
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 15664819

Table of Contents
    Title Page
        Page i
    Table of Contents
        Page ii
    Executive summary
        Page iii
        Page iv
        Page v
        Page 1
        Page 2
    Importance of household dynamics for project success
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
    Ways of incorporating concern for household dynamics into the planning process
        Page 11
    Time availability
        Page 12
        Page 13
    Task allocation
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
    Access to resources
        Page 18
        Page 19
    Changes in income
        Page 20
        Page 21
        Page 22
        Page 23
        Page 24
        Page 25
        Page 26
    Methodological issues in the study of household dynamics
        Page 27
        Page 28
        Defining the unit of analysis
            Page 29
        Income and expenditure
            Page 30
        Time use and task allocation
            Page 31
            Page 32
        Access to resources
            Page 33
        Power and decision making
            Page 34
        Use of participant-observation
            Page 35
    Directions for future research
        Page 36
        Page 37
        Page 38
        Page 39
        Page 40
        Page 41
        Page 42
        Page 43
        Page 44
Full Text

1/, 00



October 1983

Prepared for the Agency for International Development
under Grant OTR-0096-G-SS-2268-00

Agency for International Development
Bureau for Program and Policy Coordination

Nutrition and Development Project
Paper No. 83-2


Executive Summary . .. . . . 111

1. Introduction . . . .. ... ... 1

2. The Importance of Household Dynamics for Project
Success . . .. 3

3. Ways of Incorporating Concern for Household
Dynamics into the Planning Process . . 11

3.1 Time Availability . .... .. .12

3.2 Task Allocation . . . . 14

3.3 Access to Resources . . . .. 18

3.4 Changes in Income ..... . . 20

4. Methodological Issues in the Study of Household
Dynamics . . . . . 27

4.1 Defining the Unit of Analysis . . .. 29

4.2 Income and Expenditure .. . . 30

4.3 Time Use and Task Allocation ... . ... 31

4.4 Access to Resources . . .. 33

4.5 Power and Decision-Making . .. . 34

4.6 Use of Participant-Observation .. . . 35

5. Directions for Future Research ... . .36

References . . . .


The ways in which households allocate resources internally

is increasingly recognized as a critical dimension of

development policy. Evidence from virtually all parts of

the world indicates that households do not function as single

units, but that an internal economy exists in which members

fulfill certain responsibilities and are entitled to certain

rewards. The implicit contract involved in the distribution

of tasks and goods depends not only on perceived need, but

also on the perceived present or future economic contribution

of household members.

An understanding of the allocation of resources and

responsibilities is essential to predict the consequences

of policy decisions and the impact of development projects.

This is probably most important in the area of income-

generation programs and policies to encourage different types

of productive work as a means of generating self-sustaining

economic growth through participation in the private sector.

Such policies depend on inducing change, since they cannot

require it. The structure of households determines how they

will respond to alterations in the economic environment. Of

course, similar concerns apply to more traditional programs

of resource transfer.


Experience with development programs has demonstrated

the importance of the intrahousehold dimension in several

ways. Program benefits may be diluted or diverted from

target individuals after they enter the household; a

program which benefits some may increase the burden on

others by altering the availability of labor, the allocation

of tasks, or the access to resources; these changes may

result in outright project failure if they create big

enough barriers to participation; and finally, projects may

inadvertently disrupt the support networks on which households

previously relied. Obviously, these effects will seriously

alter calculation of the rates of return from different

projects. A consideration of household dynamics may in

fact alter the selection of a particular program or policy


There is evidence, however, that patterns of household

dynamics are subject to outside influence. One need not

simply throw up one's hands in the face of cultural barriers,

but rather one should seek to understand the ways in which

they can be modified in desirable directions.

The methods of measuring household dynamics have been

developed in the context of academic research projects in

which time was not the constraint which it is in the AID

planning process. Therefore there is a real need for

research on methods of obtaining reliable indicators of

intrahousehold distribution patterns without months or

even years of resident research. As a start, the need to

review existing ethnographic research in light of a few

specific questions should be recognized. New approaches

to data collection also need to be developed and tested.

These should be designed to concentrate on the knowledge

gaps identified after reviewing work already accomplished.

The critical questions to be asked pertain to

household time availability, task allocation, access to

resources, and the effects of altering the form, period,

and earner of household income.

1. Introduction

The projects undertaken by USAID have diverse objectives:

the modernization of agriculture, improvement in health and

nutritional status, a reduction in fertility, a rise in

levels of literacy and of education, to name a few. The

underlying goal of all such projects, however, is the same:

to generate self-sustained economic development in order

to improve the well-being of the poor in developing

countries. The best methods to achieve this goal have been

a subject of theoretical argument and empirical exploration

for at least fifty years, and in spite of continuing debate,

progress has been made in understanding some of the

connections betweendevelopment projects and development


This progress has taken the form of adding new

dimensions to an initially rather simple conception of the

relationship between a country's aggregate economic activity

and the economic well-being of its members. Without denying

the importance of national, macroeconomic factors, it has

been recognized that sectoral relations (e.g., between

agriculture and industry) must also be considered; that

urban-rural and socioeconomic class distinctions must be

recognized; and that disadvantaged population groups must

be targeted specifically if they are to benefit from the


development process. The most-recent step in this

progression has been a recognition that development does not

stop at the door of the household. Development projects

must consider the ways in which households (themselves

very variable in structure) allocate both goods and

responsibilities among.their members, if they are to be


Project objectives, after all, focus on individuals.

Health, nutritional status, literacy, even productivity

are characteristics of individuals. Income, frequently

measured at the level of the household, is in fact a composite

of individual members' incomes, and there is increasing

evidence that these incomes are not simply pooled and then

spent to meet household needs, but, rather, that they are

spent at least in part according to individual earners'

different preferences. The household is certainly an

important unit.for planning and analysis, but it cannot be

the only unit. It does serve as a mechanism 'or specializa-

tion of effort and redistribution of goods, but it can also

be a mechanism for limiting access to productive resources

and disproportionately allocating the burdens of work and

their returns. Altruism is indeed one motivating force of

household members, but self-interest is surely another.


2. The Importance of Household Dynamics for Project Success

What is the significance of this perception for the

selection and design of development projects? First, project

benefits may be lost between the household and the target

individual. It is a well-recognized problem of nutritional

supplementation programs, for example, that substitution

of the supplement for home-supplied food often redirects

the benefits of the supplement to other household members.

Increasing a household's food supply should increase the

food consumption of all members, but if only particular

individuals within the household are targeted, patterns

of distribution may cause those individuals to receive less

than the projected amount. If the patterns are understood

beforehand, then quantities can be adjusted or other measures

taken to assure that sufficient food actually reaches the

individuals in need. If it is simply assumed that distribu-

tion will be according to the planner's perception of

appropriateness, then the project may be ineffective.

Similarly, there are numerous cases in which agricultural

extension services have been provided to households with

the intention of increasing food production for subsistence,

but the services were provided to men (or in such a way

that only men would make use of them), while women had the

primary responsibility for producing food (UNECA, n.d.;

Loose, 1980). If the intrahousehold allocation of

responsibilities had been recognized in advance, services

could have been planned to reach the appropriate individual,

and the projects would have been more effective

(Huggard, 1978).

Projects whose objective was to increase household

income have failed to improve indicators of individual

well-being in cases where the project increased the earnings

of one member at the cost of another's earning power, or

where the form or the timing of the income were altered.

It is not uncommon, particularly in Subsaharan Africa, to

find that husbands and wives, for example, have explicit

responsibility for different aspects of household maintenance

(Guyer, 1980). If women in a given setting are primarily

responsible for providing food to the household, then an

increase in income to men may not be translated directly

into nutritional improvement. This is not to say that

women's income is always spent on family well-being and

men's income is not. There is evidence that in some

cases, for example, men may devote their incomes to invest-

ment in productive resources, while women will purchase

gold or jewelry as a form of saving. Alamgir (1977), for

example, finds that Bangladeshi women save through hoarding.

The point is, rather, that income is often spent differently

by different earners, and one cannot predict the results of

increasing household incomes without understanding that

all income is not treated the same.

Furthermore, the assumption that resources are pooled,

and thus it makes no difference who receives benefits in

the name of the household, results in inequity to those

household members who are left out. For example, after

the severe drought in Sudan and the Sahel, herds were

restored by the granting of cattle to male "heads of

household." This system failed to acknowledge that, within

the family unit, some cattle are owned by women who

separately control their products, and that their loss was

as serious (and as important to restore) as the men's

(Cloud, 1978). In the Mwea-Tebere irrigated rice settlement

scheme in Kenya, payment for the rice was given entirely

to the nominal male head of household upon delivery of the

crop. Even though other household members made substantial

inputs of labor, they were unable to obtain payment equal

to the value of their work because its full value was not

recognized (Hanger and Moris, 1973).

Of course households are not static, and neither are

their internal patterns of distribution. Households adapt

to changing circumstances, and if, for example, the member

traditionally responsible for feeding the family can no

longer do so, other members will surely take over. There

is substantial evidence that out-migration of male

household members to seek urban employment has resulted in

women adopting formerly male agricultural tasks. For

example, Levine (1966) has documented this for Keyna and

South Africa, and Colvin et al. (1980, cited in Chaney &

Lewis, 1980) for Mali. In highland Peru, women manage the

farms when their husbands are absent, engaged in wage labor

(Alberti, 1982). It may even be the case that understanding

existing distribution patterns permits one to predict how

they will change in response to particular interventions,

although the state of knowledge in this field is not yet

sufficiently advanced for that. At present it can only be

said that households do adapt, but not always rapidly,

and not always in the most desirable ways.

A second implication of intrahousehold dynamics for

project planning is that benefits to some household members

may result in burdens to others; projects should be planned

with an awareness of potential secondary effects on household

tasks. This may clearly be seen in projects which encourage

the education of children. In many, if not most, LDC

settings, school-aged children are important contributors

of family labor, either in the market or in home production

(Nag, White, Peet, 1978; King-Quizon and Evenson, 1978).

The loss of children's time will result in a greater burden

on the remaining household members (Minge-Klevana, 1978;

Reynolds,n.d.). How this burden is distributed will depend

on how the children's work was viewed. If they were seen

as "helping their mothers," then the mother may have to

absorb the effects of their absence. This occurred in the

Mwea-Tebere irrigated rice resettlement scheme in Kenya,

where children were sent away to school as part of the benefit

of the project (Hanger and Moris, 1973). Alternatively, the

product of their labor may simply be lost to the household.

In a number of societies where women of child-bearing age

are secluded, their children provide women with access to

the marketplace. Among the Moslem Hausa of northern

Nigeria, for example, children are intermediaries in the

sale of processed food made by women at home (Longhurst,

1980). In these cases, the loss of children's labor may

cause not just an increased workload, but an actual

reduction in income. For households which can afford it,

the greater returns to children's work in the long run may

be worth the short-run loss, but not all households will

be free to make that calculation. An education program

will achieve higher participation in these circumstances

if an accommodation can be made to the household's labor


There are several documented cases of agricultural

projects which had unanticipated secondary effects on

labor use. In Gambia, for example, the introduction of

irrigation for rice permitted an increase in area planted,

which increased the workload of women in weeding and

transplanting even though they could not own land in the

scheme. Eventually, women refused their labor, and the

output of rice actually fell (Dey, 1981). In Sierra

Leone, a swamp rice project significantly increased the

labor burden of male children relative to the rest of the

household (Spencer, 1976). Thus the introduction of one

kind of labor-saving technology increased the burden of

another kind of labor. Had planners taken account of the

different responsibilities of different household members,

they could have attempted to alleviate the latter burden

as well, either directly, or by reducing the labor cost of

some other tasks normally done of these individuals.

A program may even fail completely if it neglects the

intrahousehold dimension. The concern for loss of children's

labor, which may reduce participation in educational efforts,

may be a basic cause of the rejection of family planning

by many households. The long-range expectation of support

by grown children is often cited as a barrier to voluntary

reduction of fertility, but the present or short-run

economic contribution may be equally important. A less

obvious example of the importance of understanding patterns

of intrahousehold exchange is that of the Tolai Cocoa

Project in New Guinea (Epstein, 1975). Cocoa growers refused

to bring their crop to the local marketing cooperative,

even though the cooperative offered higher prices than

private traders. Authropological study found that, because

the land which they farmed was inherited through their

wives, not their own line, farmers were reluctant to have

public written records of the productivity of the land.

When the cooperative stopped keeping these records, participa-

tion increased. The Gambian rice irrigation project cited

above is another example of a project which failed because

intrahousehold allocation of tasks was not accommodated.

A fourth concern for project planners is the danger

that economic change may disrupt existing patterns of support

among household members and in the extended kinship group

or community. There is evidence from a variety of settings

that reciprocal arrangements among household members have

been altered by shifts in the relative importance or

economic status of their various tasks. In Gambia, for

example, the promotion of groundnut production for cash,

which was done by men, resulted in reduced access by women

to total household resources, because of their reduction

in relative productivity (Dey, 1981). In Java, the monetiza-

tion of agricultural labor has reduced the observance of

traditional labor exchange arrangements which guaranteed

that the landless would have access to employment for a

share of the crop (Hart, 1982).

The conclusion to be drawn from these examples is that

the success of development projects in any sector depends

on an understanding of the sometimes complex economic and

social relations among household members. In this context,

"success" refers not only to the direct output of projects

but also to their broader consequences for individual

well-being. We have shown, in the above discussion, that

project benefits may be diluted or lost as they are

distributed among household members. Further, projects,

even those which achieve their proximate objective, may

cause inequitable distribution of burdens and rewards.

And these secondary effects may cause barriers to participa-

tion which ultimately result in outright project failure.

These negative results can be avoided, and the likelihood

of success increased, if the dynamics of the allocation of

resources and of responsibilities within households are

understood and accommodated in the planning process.

Research is still needed to develop a thorough under-

standing of the determinants of patterns of resource alloca-

tion and responsibility among household members. The

recognition of this area as one of importance to development

policy is still relatively new. However, even given the

present state of knowledge, enough is known to provide some

guidelines for incorporating a concern for intrahousehold

dynamics into the development planning process. In the

next section, we review some of the available evidence

about households and their behavior and discuss the ways

in which this information can be used in the formation

of development policy and in program planning. There

have been few carefully designed research studies, but much

empirical observation and description, which has provided

useful insights into the ways in which households function.

This evidence must be viewed as suggestive rather than

conclusive, but it points to the areas in which future

research might most fruitfully be concentrated.

Section 4 discusses some of the methodological issues

in studying intrahousehold behavior. A legitimate concern

of development planners and policymakers is that they cannot

wait to take action until every potentially useful piece of

information has been obtained. This section discusses ways

of seeking available information and reviews the advantages

and disadvantages of some of the data collection approaches

which have been used in the past. Finally, brief mention

is made of the research directions which seem to be most

promising for purposes of project planning.

3. Ways of Incorporating Concern for Household Dynamics
into the Planning Process

All development involves the introduction of some

economic or environmental change with the intent of achieving

certain specified outcomes. Understanding the ways in

which households function permits a more accurate evaluation

of the likelihood of the chosen outcomes. Behavior cannot

be forced, but must be induced, which is why concern for

household dynamics is critical not only to project planning

but also to the formation of development policy. Quite

different project approaches to a given policy objective may

be adopted as a result of recognizing the constraints

imposed by existing patterns of intrahousehold allocation.

There are four broad areas relating to the household

which must be considered in the process of setting

development goals and selecting and planning projects.

These are (1) the amount of time available to different

household members; (2) the allocation of 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. Let us briefly discuss each of these.

3.1 Time Availability

Time is obviously a critical element in development

projects. Many types of interventions affect the total

amount of time available to the household or propose to

alter the ways in which time is spent. It was mentioned

earlier that family planning programs and, to a smaller

degree, primary education programs indirectly reduce labor

time available to the household by reducing the number of

its members or their availability. It has been well documented

that labor burden per person is lower in larger households

(Loose, 1980; McSweeney, 1979; Evenson et al., 1979), since

(apparently) the extra work involved in maintaining

additional household members is less than their contribution.

There are a number of studies which suggest that the net

contribution of labor 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 women'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 is not surprising. The

success of these programs might well be improved if an

attempt were made to reduce the need for the labor whose

supply would be reduced as a result of the program. For

example, fetching water is a time-consuming task in many

settings, often occupying one household member close to

full time. Piped water or a convenient well might reduce

their labor burden, creating enough slack in the system

so that the loss of a child's labor could be absorbed. Thus


an apparently unrelated intervention might provide direct

benefits as well as indirect benefits through the program

in question.

With any agricultural or income-generating project, a

primary issue 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 programs which directly provide consumption goods

such as health care, supplemental food, education and

training. 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 entail a real cost--for

example, the cost of the time taken to walk to the supple-

mental feeding site or clinic, or the time to attend a

training program. Programs which offer free or subsidized

goods or services must be planned to minimize the time

costs of participation as well.

3.2 Task Allocation

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 labor 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 from one

culture to another. A number of attempts has 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 labor seems to

be quite culture-specific. For example, in three ethnic

groups of Nigeria, similar tasks were allocated differently

between the sexes (Tolley, 1978).

Nor is the division of labor immutable. Within certain

limits, there is evidence that as circumstances change, so

may the division of labor. 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 will adopt those

of women (Reynolds, 1982). This may be true in some

instances, but there are many examples of men taking over,

for example, crops formerly associated with women when the

crops became more profitable through mechanization or other

technology, or through development of cash markets (Burfisher

and Horenstein, 1982), possibly because these changes allowed

the task to be redefined in some way. Further, there is

considerable evidence from settings as diverse as Ethiopia

and Bangladesh and India that the sexual allocation of tasks

is less rigid in lower socioeconomic groups where such

artificial constraints on productive work are an unaffordable

luxury (Tadesse, 1982; Alamgir, 1977; Mies, 1982). And women

in certain positions, such as widows and the elderly, seem to

be exempt from the task limitations imposed on other women

(Little, n.d.).

What is important, though, 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. For example, a number of writers 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. There have been cases where this approach

was tried but was unsuccessful. For example, 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 done

through women's cooperatives. 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 (Stoler, 1977). The solution is

not to withhold labor-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. One can also not assume that work burdens will

necessarily be allocated equitably. For example, there is

evidence from Laguna, Philippines that when women work in

the market up to six hours per day, they do not reduce their

work time at home (Folbre, 1980), and men do not increase

their contributions to household tasks (King-Quizon and

Evenson, 1978).

3.3 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. In fact, the concept of

joint ownership by the household, rather than by individuals,

is certainly inapplicable in many settings, particularly

in Africa (Guyer, 1980). Goods such as food, for example,

may be distributed within the household according to

accepted patterns which do not match planners' preferences.

The generalization that women and children are always dis-

favored in food distribution is not supported by the

evidence (see, for example, Lipton, 1983). Still, distribution

of food often fails to meet the needs of all members when the

quantities available are.only barely adequate, and there are

systematic patterns determining who in the household is most

likely to fall short. The argument has been made that food,

as well as other goods such as health care and education,

are allocated within the household based on 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 this is not recognized in the household's structure of

entitlements. Examples of this kind of work are food-

processing and preparation, childcare, and household

maintenance. This is work which conserves rather than earns

income; the services provided are essential 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). There i_

suggestive evidence that in much of Subsaharan Africa, where

women have well-defined, explicit economic roles (Guyer, 1980),

they also tend to receive their fair share of food in th:

household (McFie, 1967; Nicol, 1959a and b). What evidence

there is of discrimination against women and girls in food

distribution comes from south Asia, where women's economic

roles are more circumscribed (Grewal et al,, 1973). An

interesting analysis of Indian census data (Rosenzweig and

Schultz, 1981) found that differential allocation of resources

was parallel to the differential economic roles of children.

The survival of girl children vis-a-vis boys, taken to

reflect the distribution of food and health care, was higher

in areas where there were significant earning opportunities

for women, lower where women had few economic options. Not

surprisingly, this relationship was strongest in low-income

households, where resource constraints are greatest. A

parallel finding from African studies is that females apparently

are favored 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 (Schofield, 1974/5).

Much of this evidence is suggestive rather than definitive,

but it does suggest that a policy approach to encouraging

equitable distribution of resource flows inside the household

is to work toward providing economic opportunities on an

equitable basis in the market sector. It suggests that

alleviating the burden of women's tasks inside the home,

though it would provide real benefits, may not have the same

effect as providing work opportunities outside the home.

Certainly it suggests that resources provided to a family or

household as a unit may not reach the target individual unless

distribution patterns are taken into account. This is a

clear example of the importance of understanding intrahousehold

behavior if one is to predict the effects on individuals of

policy change and program implementation.

3.4 Changes in Income

A final important concern to those planning development

projects and guiding policy is the potential effects of

altering the form, period of earner of household income.

There is considerable evidence that income which enters a

household is not treated homogeneously. (Guyer, 1980; Kumar,

1979; Jones, 1983). A central objective of most development

policy is to raise the incomes of the poor, and generally it

is recognized that programs which expand income-earning

opportunities are the most likely to generate combined self-

sustaining economic growth. But there are numerous examples

of large-scale economic development projects which had

unintended negative effects on some household members because

they changed the form in which income was received, the period,

or the earner. For example, the Mwea-Tebere irrigated rice

resettlement scheme, which disrupted many aspects of the

resettled household's economy, also channeled 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 them from subsistence

to cash, had negative nutritional impact because households

were unaccustomed to using scarce cash to purchase food (Lambert, 1979)

An intervention could easily have been incorporated into the

project to deal with this problem, had it been anticipated.

Many studies report that women control, or at least believe

that they control, the income which they directly earn, much

more than that which is earned, for example, by their

husbands (Loose, 1980 [Senegal]; Ahmad, 1980 [Bangladesh];

Roldan, 1982 [Mexico]). There is a substantial amount of

anecdotal evidence (Nelson, 1979; Pala, 1978; Tripp, 1978),

supported by some empirical research (Guyer, 1980) indicating

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 since

women generally work in the market from severe economic

necessity, it is not surprising that their incomes should be

spent on necessities (Singh, 1977). Kumar (1979) working in

Kerala, found that in households where women worked for wages,

their incomes were more highly correlated with children's

nutritional status than were total household income or men's

wage income. However these households were poorer and had less

land available to them than those in which the women did no

wage work. It is to be expected that cash income increments

would have a greater effect on child nutrition in households

with the most severe resource constraints.

Further, this perception does not always take account of

how the income of men would be spent in the absence of women's

income. Jones (1983) working in an area of Cameroon, found that

there was no significant difference in the amount of rice

retained for home consumption depending on whether men or

women controlled the disposition of the crop. Further, the

amount of household expenditure on the supplementary sauce

ingredients was not significantly different in male- and

female-headed households. Married women spent less on these

items than independent women; their husbands' contributions

made up the difference. However this was in the irrigated

rice project area under study. In the poorest, non-rice

cultivating village in the study, women bough- the majority

of purchased grain in the hungry season, using their own


Jones 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 is that income is not entirely fungible. In

designing projects and proposing broader sectoral policies

to promote development, one must be alert to the possible

consequences of altering the nature of income while attempting

to raise it.

Throughout this discussion we 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 in the literature. Given the

varied and complex nature of human society, no definition of

the household, however, general, completely fits all circum-

stances. One can identify a variety of functions usually

associated with the household: co-residence; joint production;

shared consumption; kinship links (Bender, 1967). However,

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 consuming unit (e.g.,

Dorjahn, 1977 [Sierra Leone]; Foster, 1978 [Thailand]; Longhurst,

1980 [Nigeria]). Co-residence may not always be associated

with shared production or shared consumption (i.e., "eating

from a common pot") (White, 1980). The definition of co-

residence itself may not be clear where many dwelling units

form a single compound (e.g., Gurney and Omolalu, 1971).

Migration of household members creates another ambiguous case,

where a person may leave the household, but return to contribute

.labor in certain seasons, share in the.product of the sending'

household and send remittances for the support of other

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 percent 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,

A definition which acknowledges the fluid nature of the

boundaries separating the household from the community cf

which is it is part is Guyer's (1980) statement that "a

household is a particularly dense center in a network of

exchange relationships."

It seems that planners and researchers alike must accpt

the fact that the equivalent of the western concept of the

household does not exist in most places. Rather than forcQ a

definition which has more exceptions than otherwise, it makes

sense to analyze the particular dimension of interest, whether

it be sharing of production responsibilities, common uses of

income, co-residence, or the common cooking pot. In this way,

the mistake will be avoided of first applying an-erroneous

definition and then making assumptions about the behavior which

the definition implies.

It is clear that organization into households is an

important survival mechanism for individuals. Where traditional

households (co-residential kinship groups of various kinds) are

not available, it is common for people to establish reciprocal

relationships with "fictive kin" which serve similar functions

of mutual support and specialization of household maintenance

tasks (Nieves, 1979). Nonetheless, the household is clearly

not a homogeneous unit in which all members share a common set

of preferences. The household 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 by their

relative power. Thus Jones (1983), for example, in her

study in northern Cameroon, found that married.women provided

their husbands with labor at below-market wage rates, and could

not completely refuse to work out of fear of beating. But she

also found that these women worked less for their husbands

than those who were paid a higher wage, and spent the balance

of their time on crops which were less profitable, but whose

profit they controlled. Similarly Longhurst (1980) found that

within the conjugal unit, labor and goods are often exchanged

for cash.

There is clearly a cultural component to the nature of

what might be called the household contract. There is a strong

tradition in Africa of separate economic spheres of activity

for men and women, with considerable independence between them

(Guyer, 1980). But even in such a traditionally patriarchal

society as Bangladesh, economic forces affect the balance of

decision-making power in the household. Women who bring in

wage income have a greater say in how the income is spent than

those who work only in the home (Alamgir, 1977). This mutability

of traditional patterns is important for development policy

because it demonstrates that cultural factors are not an

absolute constraint on behavior, and that economic forces

can generate lasting change and progress. This means that

the exercise of identifying patterns of household behavior is

worthwhile, because those patterns are indeed subject to

outside influence.

4. Methodological Issues in the Study of Household Dynamics

The study of the internal processes of households eposs

difficulties of definition, access, and measurement. Defining

the household for the purpose of study is- already a difficult

task; then households are private institutions and their

relationships may be considered too personal to discuss; and

finally there is still much to be learned about what needs to

be measured and how to measure it. Most of the empirical

research which has been done on these household issues has been

in the context of long-term research projects and doctoral

dissertations where the cost of time-consuming data collection

methods was not a major concern. Approaches are needed which

can provide at least some guidance to project planners within

a realistic time horizon.

In addition to primary data collection, this information

may sometimes be obtained in part from the analysis of secondary

data such as census information, household income and expenditure

surveys (if they contain demographic information), consumption

and nutrition surveys. Valuable information can al'o be

found by reviewing the available ethnographic literature on

the area. There are few instances of planning for development

in an area where no research has been done before. If a set

of relevant questions is provided to planners, such as relating

to the four issues discussed in section 3, at least some

answers will be available without any new data collection


This is not to suggest that data collection as part of the

planning process is superfluous. Any project should be evaluated

in terms of its potential rate of return for the effort and

resources expended. We have demonstrated that knowledge of

intrahousehold dynamics is essential to an accurate assessment

of project outputs. What is important is to identify the

most efficient ways of obtaining such knowledge. The issues

which need to be addressed in this context are: (1) defining

the unit of analysis; (2) measuring individual income and

expenditure--that is, resource flows among and within house-

holds; (3) measuring time use and task allocation; (4) measuring

individual access to household resources, including productive

assets, food, education, and other human capital investments;

(5) measuring the distribution of power and decision-making

responsibility. Let us briefly discuss these.


4.1 Defining the Unit of Analysis

We have already discussed the difficulty of defining

precisely what a household is. Any dimension along.whicn

households can be measured will include some individuals

who ought to.be excluded in a reasonable definition. Asice

from the theoretical question of what is a household, th:ee

is also the practical problem that household composition ,-nd

structure are highly variable over time. One study of house-

hold economy found that, over a one-and-a-half-year period,

20 percent of the sample households were disrupted in some

way (Haugerud, 1981). In a-study of food consumption presently

being conducted in Zambia, household structure is charted anew

in each monthly round of data collection (Kumar, 1982).

Changing structure is in fact an adaptive mechanism of house-

holds (Nieves, 1979; Jelin, n.d.), so that information on

the flexibility of household units over time is an important

indicator of their ability to cope with economic stress and

change. Further, individuals may belong to several different

households at one time (Loufti, 1980): for example, if they

receive support from both their natal and affinal families.

People cannot be studied outside the context in which they live,

but a.useful suggestion is to use the individual as the point

of departure, and to analyze the household or other support

network to which he belongs as a characteristic (Watts and

Skidmore, 1976). The practical application of this approach

still needs to be tested, but it suggests a way around a

constant problem of household-level research.

4.2 Income and Expenditure

Most income and expenditure surveys measure all the income

(cash and kind) flowing into the household and all the

household's expenditure or consumption in a given reference

period. It is very unusual to find a survey which distinguishes

income by separate earner (Kumar, 1979; Guyer, 1980) or

expenditure by individual. Yet it is well recognized that,

to get accurate income data, each earner must be questioned

and each source of income separately identified, since it is

not uncommon for household members to lie to each other cr to

keep secret the amount of their income. It is not meaningless

to aggregate household income, but this does not provide the

data needed to study intrahousehold processes. In many cases,

it is simply a question of preserving in the data-coding

process information which has already been gathered.

For present purposes it is probably worthwhile to trade

off sample size against the detail of information needed. At

least at present, techniques of income measurement are not so

well established that large-scale surveys are likely to

obtain the quality of information required. And the statistical

accuracy of quantity measures obtained in large-scale surveys

is likely to be less important than capturing the nature of

resource flows in and out of households and among their members.

It may be possible to derive some useful understanding

of these flows from existing income and expenditure surveys

if they contain good information about the occupational

status of all household members, as some do. However, such

multivariate analysis must be viewed as indicative rather

than conclusive, because it is often impossible to distinguish

between equally plausible explanatory variables i.f they cavary.

For example, Hanger and Moris (1973) attribute reduced frod

expenditure in the Mwea-Tebere rice project to the shift In

earner. An alternative explanation might be the shift from

steady, small amounts of income to an annual, lump sum payment.

This demonstrates the real need for studies which are explicitly

designed to investigate intrahousehold questions.

4.3 Time Use and Task Allocation

The literature clearly demonstrates the danger of relying

on recall and self-report to obtain information on time use.

The studies which have compared recall with direct observation

have found substantial differences between the two methods.

One study in Upper Volta found that 44 percent of women's work

activities measured by direct observation were missed in a

recall questionnaire (McSweeney, 1979). This is even greater

than the 30 percent difference between a 24-hour and a one-

month recall questionnaire measured in Java (Sajogya, 1979).

In the Philippines, King-Quizon (1978) found that children's

market work time was three times as great measured by direct

observation as by recall. There are several problems with.

using recall data to measure time use. One is, of course,

that people simply may not know how much time they spend at

a given task. Not all cultures are ruled by the clock as

ours is. Further, people may not define their tasks ai the

same way as the researcher; some activities may simply net

be recognized as work. For instance, the women lacemakers

in Narsapur, India spend six to eight hours a day at the task,

yet their husbands report this as leisure time, because it

is not perceived as work (Mies, 1982).

Direct observation of time use can be done by following

a small sample of individuals continuously during a day or

a sample of days; it can be done by observing randomly selected

short periods of a random sample of individuals (Johnson, 1975);

or it can be done by participant-observation over some period

of time. The Johnson method has the advantage of minimally

disrupting normal activities and of providing a systematic body

of observations. Predefined categories are not used, and

multiple activities can be recorded. However, these random

moments may not provide a sense of the organization and sequencing

of activities, which may be important factors in how time

is used and constrained. Therefore, this method should

probably be combined with some way of measuring whole tasks.

The question of how many observations are minimally required

for reasonable accuracy has yet to be explored.

4.4 Access to Resources

The special case of intrafamily food distribution has

received considerable attention (Nutrition Economics Group,

1982; Horowitz, 1980; Carloni, 1981). This is an area in

which the importance of individual-level measures has long

been recognized, and various data collection methods have

been tested. The food question is complex because, unlike

education and other resources, food consumption has meaning

only in relation to nutrient need. Chaudhury (1983) suggests

that one reason for the commonly held notion that women

generally receive less than their fair share of food is that

careful controls for activity level and body weight have not

been used in data analysis. Using such adjustments, his study

found no evidence of sex discrimination in food distribution

in most age groups. The question whether the WHO nutrient

requirement levels may be set too high adds another dimension

of uncertainty.

It is easier to measure outcomes (e.g., weight gain or loss,

nutritional status) than food consumption directly, but such

measures do not distinguish patterns of food allocation from

differences in energy expenditure, or in morbidity which

affects growth.

For purposes of simply indicating patterns of distribution,

shortcut methods may be possible. Checklists and food

frequencies have been used to indicate overall diet quality,

for example. Once again, though, methods specifically to
measure intrahousehold distribution of food have not been

widely used. Most commonly, 24-hour recalls or direct

observation and food weighing have been the methods used.

4.5 Power and Decision-Making

The measurement of decision-making power poses serious

conceptual problems. First, there is likely to be genuine

difference of opinion among household members as to who makes

what decisions (Safilios-Rothschild, 1969). Then, people may

not admit the true allocation of influence. Alamgir (1977)

suggests, for example, that the female contribution to household

decision-making is greater than either party will publicly

acknowledge. Another important consideration is that decisions

take place in a context which limits alternatives. There are

studies from many countries indicating that women and men, for

example, make decisions which pertain to their own spheres

of activity (Laird, 1979 [Paraguay]; Cloud, 1978 [Sahel;] Alamgir,

1977 [Bangladesh]),but presumably some of these decisions are

fairly limited in scope: not whether to plant millet, but

how much to plant. Roldan (1982) makes the important point

that management of household finances need not imply control

over them. In an environment of severe resource constraint,

she points out, there are no decisions to be made; expenditure

patterns are dictated by survival needs.

Probably the best way to observe the allocation of

decision-making is to look at the results, that is, to look

at investment and consumption decisions among households of

a given type. The only other approach is to use psychodynamic

methods which are probably not suitable for purposes of project


4.6 Use of Participant-Observation

Several researchers have argued that it is essential to

have a fundamental understanding of a culture, such as can

only be obtained by living in it, before more specific research

questions can be addressed or interventions developed (e.g.,

Haugerud, 1979). Certainly, project experience has demonstrated

the danger of treating, as it were, one symptom rather than

the whole patient. One can view household dynamics as the

fundamental and complex expression of a culture, requiring

integrated study of its various dimensions.

Epstein (1975) has suggested that the aid agencies make

greater use of the relatively cheap resource of anthropological

studies, and argues that ordinarily there is sufficient lead

time for such studies to be carried out in an area which has

been targeted for aid before specific projects are planned.

An effort should at least be made to seek out those who have

already worked in the target area and to review the work which

has been done in light of the specific questions which pertain

to household dynamics. In this way, specific knowledge gaps

can be identified, so that resources can be most efficiently

concentrated on obtaining the missing pieces of information.

An awareness of the heed for this information is probably the

most important first step.

5. Directions for Future Research

The study of household dynamics in relation to development

policy is a relatively new field. There are still a number

of important empirical questions to be answered. Among these,

perhaps most relevant to AID's objectives, are questions of

the effect of changing income-earning opportunities on the

behavior and well-being of household members. This relates


to the ways in which the form, period, and reliability of

income, as well as who earns it, influences the way it is

spent, and how it alters household decisions about consumption,

investment, and fertility. Another important question

relating to AID's concerns is the balance between market

work, home production, and the care of children. A third

area of exploration is how to influence patterns of control

over productive resources, specifically, how to forestall

limitations on access as a result of increased productivity.

As important as these empirical questions are, it is

perhaps even more important to identify timely and low-cost

ways of obtaining the necessary information to analyze the

household dimension of development programs. Such information

has seldom been sought outside an academic or research context,

and, as a result, the development of innovative and efficient

data collection methods has not been a priority. Now that

the relevance of these questions is being recognized by the

aid community, the development of systematic, practical

approaches to answering them should be placed high on the

policy agenda.


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