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Review 1: "COVID-19, Crises and Women's Control of Resources: Evidence from Mexico"

Overall, reviewers expressed some concern about the validity of the study’s assumptions and limited enquiry into potential mechanisms and policy implications.

Published onJan 23, 2024
Review 1: "COVID-19, Crises and Women's Control of Resources: Evidence from Mexico"

RR:C19 Evidence Scale rating by reviewer:

  • Potentially informative. The main claims made are not strongly justified by the methods and data, but may yield some insight. The results and conclusions of the study may resemble those from the hypothetical ideal study, but there is substantial room for doubt. Decision-makers should consider this evidence only with a thorough understanding of its weaknesses, alongside other evidence and theory. Decision-makers should not consider this actionable, unless the weaknesses are clearly understood and there is other theory and evidence to further support it.

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Review:

The author claims, based on evidence from annual expenditure surveys in Mexico from 2004-2022, that during the financial crisis of 2008-2009 women's control over household resources increased relative to men's but declined during the COVID crisis.

This paper uses repeated annual cross-sections from the Mexican National Household

Income and Expenditures Survey for the years 2004-2022 to estimate how intrahousehold inequality changed during the financial crisis of 2008-2009 and during the COVID-19 epidemic. The key finding is that women’s control over household resources rose during the financial crisis but declined during the COVID crisis. The paper uses a framework established in the economics literature that depicts households as having multiple members with different preferences over goods and in which the bargaining position of each member determines the share of household resources each gets to spend. The estimation methodology and assumptions of the paper are identical to those used in the literature; the innovation is to use stacked survey data to estimate changes in resource shares within the household over time.

Because resource shares are not directly measured in the data, one way to identify them requires information on expenditures on goods that are assignable to individual household members, that is goods that are not shared. The survey measures separate expenditures on men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing, which the study takes as the assignable good. In addition, identification of the resource shares requires multiple assumptions about household behavior. The paper follows the literature in making two key and strong assumptions. The first is that the proportion of household resources assigned to each member does not change with total household expenditures, although it can vary with changes in prices and with the characteristics of the individual members. The second key assumption is that the proportion of expenditures on clothing by men and women responds identically to changes in the amount of resources each gets to spend. Then, along with assumptions about the characteristics of spending functions, the resource shares of men and women are identified based on differences in how expenditure on men’s and women’s clothing responds to changes in total household expenditures.

Given the assumptions, the author is able to show how the resource shares of men and women changed over time. These are due to changes in household variables as well as estimates of year-specific effects. The credibility of the findings depends importantly on the veracity of the key assumptions made, which are not tested. For example, the strong and necessary assumption that men’s and women’s expenditures on clothing respond identically to changes in their resources could be tested directly by examining the behavior of men and women living alone, as is done in the prior literature. Moreover, there is no discussion of the mechanisms by which the shares vary over time and scant information on how the key household variables changed during the two crises. For example, the paper mentions that labor-force participation of women varied across the two crises. This could alter women’s bargaining position in the household, but also would make total household expenditures endogenously vary with the crises. The author, however, treats total household expenditures as an exogenous variable.

This study combines household-level data with economic theory to examine how crises affect individual welfare and intrahousehold inequality. However, the paper's contribution would be strengthened by examining the mechanisms underlying these effects and providing evidence for the key identifying assumptions.

Comments
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Jose Casco:

I sincerely appreciate the insightful feedback. The latest version of the manuscript presents several tests that validate the identifying assumptions used in the model (appendix). Also, it is important to clarify three points: (i) the paper does consider the case when expenditure is endogenous, and the outcomes are consistent with those of the benchmark model (as demonstrated in the robustness checks subsection), (ii) the mechanism governing variations in shares over time were detailed in the identification and estimation strategy section, and (iii) within the appendix, a table illustrates the changes in key household variables over time. Overall, the paper provides robust evidence that crises significantly impact intra-household inequality—a critical aspect that remains underexplored in the crises and COVID-19 literature, especially in developing countries.