Nutritional status and spousal empowerment among native Amazonians

Ricardo A. Godoy*, Ankur Patel, Victoria Reyes-García, Craig F. Seyfried, William R. Leonard, Thomas McDade, Susan Tanner, Vincent Vadez

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Researchers and development organizations have shown interest in individual empowerment because it presumably improves well-being. Estimates of empowerment's effects on well-being contain biases from the potential endogeneity of empowerment. Using data from a sexually egalitarian and highly autarkic society of foragers and horticulturalists in the Bolivian Amazon, the Tsimane', we overcome the problems that this poses by: (1) matching spouses' responses to the same questions about who makes decisions or who breaks ties in 10 domains to improve accuracy in measures of empowerment; and (2) using parental attributes of spouses as instrumental variables for spousal empowerment. Outcomes include two anthropometric indices of short-run nutritional status: body-mass index and age and sex-standardized z scores of mid-arm muscle area. The amount of empowerment of household heads did not affect their nutritional status or other indicators of their well-being, such as income, wealth, expenditures, happiness, social capital, or self-perceived health. It also did not affect the nutritional status of their offspring. Nor did it affect the difference in income, wealth, or monetary expenditures between spouses. The insubstantial effects persisted with other definitions of empowerment or types of regressions. We end with a discussion of why empowerment, despite its popularity in development discourse, has such tenuous links with objective indicators of well-being, and the implication of this finding for future studies of empowerment's effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1517-1530
Number of pages14
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 2006


  • Anthropometrics
  • Bolivia
  • Empowerment
  • Human capital
  • Nutritional status
  • Tsimane'

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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