research institute for compassionate economics

big numbers

Written by Dean Spears on March 9th, 2015

I’m often asked why I work in India rather than other places.  When I answer that it is substantially because there are so many people here, people sometimes react as though that is bafflingly irrelevant.

I’m thinking of this today because I have been editing our paper that uses joint rural households to identify an effect of women’s social status and empowerment on their children’s health (that old draft will be replaced soon, with any luck).  This is a very important question: many development programs are built on the belief that empowering moms is a good way to improve their children’s outcomes, but it turns out to be very difficult to conclusively show.

In our paper, we were resisting the urge to apologize and wring our hands over the fact that, of course, not every Indian child lives an a joint rural household.  We are zooming in on a special case that we think we can learn from.  However, I stopped feeling apologetic when I realized that the number of children under 5 living in joint rural households in India is over 7 million — approximately the total number of people of all ages living in Diane’s and my home states of Connecticut and Oklahoma, combined.