Refining the Measurement of Women's Autonomy: The Case of Rural India

Rina Agarwala, Princeton University

Women's autonomy has been extensively investigated in social demography for decades. Little research, however, has studied the measurement of autonomy. Most scholars have focused on theoretical arguments regarding its measurement and cross-national applicability. Others have indexed items thought to reflect autonomy into summary scales with little regard for measurement error. In this study, we use the Survey on the Status of Women and Fertility to examine 62 items thought to reflect autonomy. We use confirmatory factor analyses to a) determine which model, among a set of alternatives, offers the strongest approach to measuring autonomy; and b) determine whether a factor analytic approach offers a better fit to the data than the summed index that is commonly used among researchers. To evaluate the usefulness of the autonomy concept in a comparative approach, this study uses data from women in rural India and then replicates the models using comparable data from rural Pakistan.

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Presented in Session 149: Gender and Patriarchy in India and Bangladesh