Women's Autonomy and Subjective Well-Being: How Gender Norms Shape the Impact of Self-Help Groups in Odisha, India

Luuk van Kempen, Centre for International Development Issues, Radboud University Nijmegen Nijmegen, Gelderland, Netherlands
Rik Linssen, Maastricht University Maastricht, Limburg, N


Self-help groups are a popular strategy for empowering women in India.  These groups are composed of ten to twenty women and focus on savings and credit programs or advancing group members' claims or rights.  This study presents impact estimates of women's self-help group membership on subjective well-being in Odisha, India. 

While there is evidence of a positive impact of group membership on women’s autonomy, membership does not, on average, affect subjective well-being. But, for members living in communities with relatively conservative gender norms among nonmembers, subjective well-being is notably lower. The authors posit that these women feel a loss of identity – a problem that looms larger when women’s enhanced autonomy implies a stronger violation of gender norms at the community level. In these communities, social-sanctioning mechanisms contribute to a negative impact of women’s self-help groups on subjective well-being.

Published in Feminist Economics, Volume 20 (login required)

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