research institute for compassionate economics

When women eat last: Discrimination at home and women’s mental health

Women and girls in India face many forms of discrimination throughout the life course.  Gender inequality has important consequences for women themselves, and also for their families and communities.

The 2011 India Human Development Survey found that in about a quarter of Indian households, women are expected to have their meals after men have finished eating. This study investigates whether this form of gender discrimination is associated with worse mental health outcomes for women. Our primary data source is a new, state-representative mobile phone survey of women ages 18-65 in Bihar, Jharkhand, and Maharashtra in 2018. We measure mental health using questions from the World Health Organization’s Self-Reporting Questionnaire.

We find that, for women in these states, eating last is correlated with worse mental health, even after accounting for differences in socioeconomic status. We discuss two possible mechanisms for this relationship: eating last may be associated with worse mental health because it is associated with worse physical health, or eating last may be associated with poor mental health because it is associated with less autonomy, or both.

Published: Working Paper       Geography: India

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