Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2022

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



A growing number of development policies increasingly target women as beneficiaries or grant protections to women under the premise that monetary resources in the hands of mothers are more likely to be spent on children's human capital than monetary resources in the hands of fathers. This dissertation explores how observed household responses to these policies can be effectively attributed to their impact on households' decision-making structure. The first two chapters empirically and theoretically explore whether the 2002 urban expansion of Mexico's Progresa/Oportunidades conditional cash transfer program was effective at simultaneously empowering mothers and increasing household investments in children's human capital. The third chapter investigates the dynamic impact of unilateral divorce reforms on household formation and dissolution patterns in Mexico.The first chapter uses the baseline and follow-up waves of the Oportunidades urban evaluation survey, ENCELURB, to document a gender-asymmetric impact of the program on the allocation of time within two-parent households characterized by an increase in mothers' leisure hours due to a decrease in their time spent in home production that is not offset by an increase in market work hours while fathers' time use is left unaffected by the program. I also observe a contrasting insignificant impact on single mothers' leisure hours. Rationalizing the evidence through a framework in which the income and substitution effects triggered by program participation within two-parent households are intrinsically different from those of their single counterparts by also capturing a potential response of the household's bargaining structure to the program's gender-based targeting strategy, the observed time use results constitute suggestive evidence of an empowerment effect in favor of mothers. This coincides with our results indicating that participation in the program led to higher school-related expenditures on girls, increased attendance rates, and weekly hours spent at school, which for boys effectively translates into a lower likelihood of grade repetition. While altogether, the results provide empirical evidence in support of a relationship between women's empowerment and children's human capital accumulation, the extent to which an empowerment effect drives the observed responses to the program is limited by the complex benefits and conditionalities scheme of the program that triggers additional income and substitution effects. The second chapter takes the time-use results from the first chapter as motivating evidence to disentangle the potential impact of a gender-targeted policy like Oportunidades on the decision-making structure of beneficiary two-parent households. To this end, I build upon a collective labor supply model with home production, which characterizes the household's structural demands for time and consumption as functions of the balance of power within the household. Importantly, I propose an alternative approach to identify the model by relying on the exogenous variation of Oportunidades on working mothers' leisure and home production hours. In this way, I provide an empirical application of this framework in which I identify and estimate the Pareto weight, which captures mothers' bargaining power, even when the intrahousehold allocation of consumption is unobserved. I document that participation in the program significantly increased beneficiary mothers' bargaining power, effectively increasing their individual welfare and the production of the public good used in the model as a proxy for child quality. Such an increase in domestic output is consistent with the results on child outcomes presented in the first chapter. To the best of my knowledge, this constitutes novel evidence of the impact of targeted benefits on women's empowerment and its link with children's human capital accumulation since empirical applications of the framework developed in this paper are still relatively scarce, predominantly focused on developed countries, often relying on the availability of high-quality survey data and none used for evaluating the impact of a social experiment like Oportunidades. I exploit the structural approach implemented to conduct counterfactual exercises yielding relevant policy insights indicating that Oportunidades is an effective policy lever for women's empowerment compared to alternative cash transfer designs and wage subsidies and that the program's targeting can be improved by selecting beneficiaries based on individual rather than household poverty rates. In the third chapter, a joint project with George-Levi Gayle and Andrew Shephard, we combine linked administrative data on marriages and divorces with survey data within an event study design to show that the adoption of unilateral no-fault divorce significantly increased couples' probability to divorce. This has led to a significant increase in divorce rates, consistent with recent evidence documenting an increase in divorce rates in response to the implementation of unilateral no-fault divorce in the United States and Europe. We contribute to the literature not only by documenting how the liberalization of divorce has affected marital dissolution within the context of a developing country but also by providing novel evidence of how such impact differs by spouses' characteristics at marriage, including couples' choice of asset division regime and wives' labor force participation. Furthermore, we find evidence that the adoption of unilateral divorce has also affected household formation by increasing assortativeness among newlyweds and contributing to the decrease in marriage rates and increase in cohabitation rates documented in the country during the past two decades. Altogether, our results provide motivating evidence for developing a model of household formation, behavior, and dissolution that accounts for differences among legally married and cohabiting couples while highlighting the dynamic implications of allowing newlyweds to choose the asset division regime at the time of marriage.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

George-Levi Gayle

Committee Members

Sanghmitra Gautam


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Available for download on Friday, April 12, 2024

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Economics Commons