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India: Patience of men and women

Women in India are more patient than men. Why?

Women are often observed to make more future-oriented decisions than men, especially if these choices concern children. But what drives the difference? To find the answer, Michal Bauer and Julie Chytilová measured patience using an economic experiment with monetary rewards on a sample of 573 villagers in India. Their results show that women with children are more able to delay gratification compared to men or women without children. The results imply that empowerment of women may not only lead to more dignity for women, but could also lead to more future-oriented financial decisions by families.

Michal Bauer / Charles University and CERGE-EI
Julie Chytilová / Charles University

where: India
sample size: 573 villagers
when: June 2007

project in PDF
original paper

We would like to thank for supporting this project:

Česká katolická charitaFulbright Foundation

Decision for the future 

Many fundamental decisions in life – such as saving for a child’s education or a farm investment such as fertilizer – bear fruit later on. For such choices to take place people need to be patient and willing to wait for future benefits. An important task for those designing development aid projects for households is to channel the aid via those members of the families who will use it most efficiently in a longer-term horizon. The research conducted in India aimed to measure patience of poor villagers and analyzed whether there are differences in patience between men and women and if yes, whether the difference is constant during one’s lifetime or is predicted by family characteristics.

Who will wait? 

To answer the questions, economic experiments testing the choices over time were conducted. Among the sample of 573 villagers, the researchers tested how people value future money. In the experiment, each villager was offered a choice between a smaller amount of money he or she would receive tomorrow and a higher amount that would be delivered in three months from the day of the choice. The choices therefore reveal the willingness to wait for a larger sum of money. The degree of patience of each individual is mea-sured by varying the later-delivered amount. The lower the acceptable later-delivered amount is, the more patient the individual is. In other words, the level of patience can be understood as an exchange rate between money now and money delivered in the future.

Mothers see beyond the horizon

The results show that women are more patient than men and their patience grows with the number of children they look after. One explanation is that women are more empathetic, can better imagine their children’s needs and the benefits of investments, e.g. in schooling. Also, mothers are more concerned about unexpected future expenditures, e.g. on health, and thus become more willing to save. The difference between saving women and spending men is particularly profound in families with small children. It may explain an observation by S. Anderson and J.-M. Baland that married women participate more in Rotating Saving and Credit Associations (ROSCAs; see the box). These clubs protect their savings from being immediately consumed by their husbands. It is also consistent with the evidence that the greater the share of family income in the hands of women the higher the survival probability of children (Thomas, 1990) and health status of girls (Duflo, 2003).

What is a ROSCA?

A Rotating Savings and Credit Association or ROSCA is an organized group of individuals who voluntarily meet in order to save and borrow together. During the regular meetings every individual contributes the same specified amount to a common pot. At the end of the meeting, one of the members takes all the money and can use it for whatever purpose he or she likes. Meetings are repeated until all the members have taken the pot once. Such associations work in small communities where individuals can monitor and punish possible violators. Due to its simplicity, the system can easily be operated in communities with low literacy rates, as no bookkeeping is necessary.


  • - Women with children are found to make more patient choices than men or women with no children.

  • - Such a difference implies a tension in how to spend money between spouses that have small children.

  • - Empowering women and giving them more say in intra-family decisions may lead to more development-germane choices at the household level.


Bauer, M. & Chytilová, J. (2013): Women, Children and Patience: Experimental Evidence from Indian Villages. Review of Development Economics.

Supplementary online material here .

Related literature:

- Anderson, S. & Baland, J. M. (2002): The Economics of ROSCAs and Intrahousehold Resource Allocation. Quarterly Journal of Economics.

- Duflo, E. (2003): Grandmothers and Granddaughters: Old-Age Pensions and Intrahousehold Allocation in South Africa. World Bank Economic Review.

- Thomas, D. (1990): Intra-household resource allocation: An inferential approach. Journal of Human Resources.

- Rubalcava, R., Teruela, G. & Thomas, D. (2009): Investments, Time Preferences, and Public Transfers Paid to Women. Economic Development and Cultural Change.


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