Empowered by Absence: Does Male Out-migration Empower Female Household Heads Left Behind? uri icon


  • Male out-migration from rural areas means women left behind may have the opportunity to assume roles and responsibilities previously handled by their husbands. This shift in household power dynamics may enable these women to become more empowered which would reflect positively in their asset ownership, productive decision-making, household expenditures, personal autonomy, and exposure to domestic violence. This paper contributes to this emerging literature by evaluating whether the absence of the primary male, due to migration, empowers the women left-behind in rural Bangladesh. To account for self-selection and endogeneity bias arising from migration, we employ propensity score matching and instrument variable techniques, respectively, for efficient estimation. Our results indicate that even though the women left behind enjoy greater ownership of assets, there is no improvement in their decision-making authority over productive utilization of those resources. This also raises concerns over long-term persistency of increased asset ownership. However, we do find the women to experience a better status within the household, facing lower domestic abuse in the absence of their husbands from other household members. Finally, male out-migration also significantly improves women's control over minor household expenditures and freedom of physical mobility, by providing an opportunity to explore and realize their own potential for empowerment in an otherwise dominant patriarchal society.

publication date

  • 2021
  • 2020