Measuring Autonomy: Evidence from Bangladesh

OPHI Working Papers

The search for rigorous, transparent, and domain-specific measures of empowerment that can be used for gendered analysis is ongoing. This paper explores the value-added of a new measure of domain-specific autonomy. This direct measure of motivational autonomy emanates from the ‘self-determination theory’ (Ryan and Deci, 2000). We examine in detail the Relative Autonomy Index (RAI) for individuals, using data representative of Bangladeshi rural areas. Based on descriptive statistical analyses, we conclude that the measure and its scale perform broadly well in terms of conceptual validity and reliability. Based on an exploratory analysis of the determinants of autonomy of men and women in Bangladesh, we find that neither age, education, nor income are suitable proxies for autonomy. This implies that the RAI adds new information about the individuals and is a promising avenue for further empirical exploration as a quantitative yet nuanced measure of domain-specific empowerment.

Citation: Vaz, A., Alkire, S., Quisumbing, A., and Sraboni, E. (2019). ‘Measuring autonomy: Evidence from Bangladesh’, OPHI Working Paper 125, Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), University of Oxford.

Online Appendix available here.

Also published in Asia-Pacific Sustainable Development Journal, 2018, Vol. 25(2), pp. 21–51. 

empowerment, agency, social indicators, Bangladesh
South Asia


Ana Vaz, Sabina Alkire, Agnes Quisumbing and Esha Sraboni

Series Name
OPHI Working Papers
Publication date
JEL Codes
D63, O55
Publication Number
WP 125