Female Empowerment: Impact of a Commitment Savings Product in the Philippines

by Nava Ashraf, Dean Karlan & Wesley Yin

Overview — Does access to personal savings increase female decision-making power in the household? The answer could be important for policymakers looking to increase female empowerment. HBS professor Nava Ashraf and colleagues developed a commitment savings product called a SEED (Save, Earn, Enjoy Deposits) account with a small, rural bank in the Philippines. The SEED account requires that clients commit not to withdraw funds that are in the account until they reach a goal date or amount, but it does not explicitly commit the client to continue depositing funds after opening the account. This working paper examines the impact of the commitment savings product on both self-reported decision-making processes within the household and the subsequent household allocation of resources. Key concepts include:

  • The commitment savings product positively impacts household decision-making power for women (i.e., the household is more likely to buy female-oriented durables) and self-perception of savings behavior (time-inconsistent females report being more disciplined savers), as well as actual consumption decisions regarding durable goods.
  • A simple design feature such as a restriction on withdrawals or encouraging savings through marketing or door-to-door deposits can benefit women in search of self-control devices as well as those who desire to have more decision-making power in the household.

Author Abstract

Female "empowerment" has increasingly become a policy goal, both as an end to itself and as a means to achieving other development goals. Microfinance in particular has often been argued, but not without controversy, to be a tool for empowering women. Here, using a randomized controlled trial, we examine whether access to and marketing of an individually-held commitment savings product leads to an increase in female decision-making power within the household. We find positive impacts, particularly for women who have below median decision-making power in the baseline, and we find this leads to a shift towards female-oriented durables goods purchased in the household. Keywords: savings, microfinance, female empowerment, household decision making. 27 pages.

Paper Information