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2014-15 Global Scholars

The IRW hosts feminist researchers from around the world as Global Scholars, enabling them to pursue their own research and writing in a supportive environment while accessing Rutgers’ unique feminist resources. Global Scholars participate in the IRW seminar, present public lectures and speak in classes throughout the university.

Hema Swaminathan
“Gender, Assets and Welfare: Theory and Empirics"

During my proposed fellowship at IRW, I plan to work on two related projects that will result in a framework for theoretically meaningful interpretation of gendered patterns of household asset ownership. In the first project, I will develop normative measures of gender asset gaps, and in the second project, I will work on clarifying the relationship between asset ownership and wellbeing. Taken together these projects will result in significant extensions to current state of the art in measuring gender asset gaps.

First, positive measures of gender asset gaps do not address the fundamental problem of incommensurability across households. Consider two different households that both contain only a married heterosexual couple. In the first household, the woman owns 30% of household assets by value and in the second household the woman owns 70% of household assets by value. This information about gender asset gaps in the two households, however, does not permit a direct comparison of welfare outcomes for these households. My first project addresses this problem by transforming gender asset gaps into welfare loss metrics at the household level. Thus, while welfare across two households is generally not comparable, the comparison of welfare loss as perceived by a household is not only comparable across households but is also useful information for public policy that targets gender equity.

Second, the framework that I will develop in my projects will build a theoretical bridge between capability framework and intrahousehold distribution of assets (Agarwal et. al., 2006). The framework developed by my two projects will enable empirical work that uses the commodity-capability frameworkin the context of intrahousehold distribution of assets – an open problem in the field (Iversen, 2006). I show how the welfare gap metric developed by my first project lends itself to development of metrics for measuring capability gaps, and my second project will use these capability gaps in a subjective wellbeing context (Bruni et. al., 2008).

Third, my two projects make contributions to the current debates on inequality. While the 2007 financial crisis has resulted in increased focus on inequality, intrhousehold inequality continues to be neglected. My first project will deploy the well-established set of entropy-based inequality measures to delineate the contribution of intrahousehold asset distribution to aggregate wealth inequality. When these calculations are combined in a normative framework, it is possible to estimate aggregate welfare losses from
intrahousehold asset inequality.

Finally, my projects will also apply the theoretical framework to a large data set on individual level asset ownership that I collected, as part of the Gender Asset Gap Project, with colleagues from five different institutions.

Hema Swaminathan is an Assistant Professor at the Centre for Public Policy, Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, India


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