Measuring autonomy: Evidence from Bangladesh

OPHI Research in Progress

This paper explores the value-added of a new measure of domain-specific autonomy in the context of Bangladesh. The measure under scrutiny is a new direct measure of motivational autonomy proposed by Ryan and Deci (2000), and emanating from what is known as ‘self determination theory’ (SDT) in psychology. We provide a detailed examination of a measure of individuals’ autonomy, the Relative Autonomy Index, using data representative of Bangladeshi rural areas. The paper presents two distinct analyses. In the first part of the paper we perform several descriptive statistical analyses to investigate the conceptual validity of our measure, and to assess the internal consistency of its scale. The second one provides an analysis of autonomy of men and women in rural Bangladesh and investigates to what extent this concept is captured by other common proxies of empowerment. We report mixed results in terms of the conceptual validity of the RAI. On one hand, when we consider a reasonably sized sample, our statistical methods identify three dimensions in the data, each one corresponding to one of the motivations subscales, as predicted by our measurement model. On the other hand, we only find an ordered correlation among the motivation subscales in the sample of men, and only in five of the 13 domains. This means that in most cases the correlations between our subscales do not perfectly fit the self-determination continuum. Our exploratory analysis of the determinants of autonomy of men and women in Bangladesh shows that neither age, education, nor income, are suitable proxies for autonomy. This implies that the RAI adds new information about the individuals. In general, we find that while men’s autonomy is largely determined by the income of the household, women’s autonomy is closely related to their occupation. Finally, we do not find robust evidence that decision-making indicator “feel can make decisions”, empowerment indicator “power to make decisions”, and domain-specific indicator “satisfaction with decisions made” constitute valid proxies for autonomy.

Citation: Vaz, A., Alkire, S., Quisumbing, A. and Sraboni, E. (2013). 'Measuring autonomy: Evidence from Bangladesh', OPHI Research in Progress 38a, Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), University of Oxford.

agency, poverty measurement, women's empowerment
South Asia

Ana Vaz, Sabina Alkire, Agnes Quisumbing and Esha Sraboni
Series Name
OPHI Working Papers
Publication date
Publication Number
RP 38a