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Working Paper No. 07-04

Does Access to Family Planning Services Improve Women's Welfare? Evidence on Dowries and Intra- Household Bargaining in Bangladesh
Christina Peters
October 2007


This paper demonstrates how the availability of family planning and maternal and child health services alters the structure of intra-household bargaining. Despite the intention of many family planning programs to empower women through fertility control, I observe that when women obtain access to services only through marriage, there can be offsetting welfare changes in their bargaining power and in the dowries they are required to pay their husbands. To understand these effects, I develop a model that allows for the possibility of household adjustments to external shocks to occur along two margins simultaneously— both before marriage through a dowry payment as well as within marriage through a shift in the bargaining weights. I then examine the marriage market effects of a quasi-randomized family planning program in rural Bangladesh using 1996 cross-sectional data on nearly 4,500 households. I find that women pay 14 percent higher dowries in order to obtain husbands with access to the program, and this result is confirmed in a difference-in-differences specification. Moreover, compared to women without program access, women in the treatment area are 33 percent less likely to be able to make large purchases without permission from their husbands or another household member. The fact that I observe adjustments both before and within marriage suggests that marital contracts in Matlab occur in a setting of limited commitment.

JEL classification: D13, J12, J13
Keywords: Marriage, intra-household bargaining, family planning