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"Household Bargaining and Excess Fertility: A Study in Zambia."

One of the most important technological developments of the 20th century was the advent of modern contraception, with potentially broad social and economic consequences for women and society, but barriers to contraceptive adoption remain significant and little understood. Our results quantify the role of intra-household dynamics in contraceptive adoption. We find that women in Zambia who were given access to birth control individually, rather than in the presence of their husbands, were 23% more likely to visit a family planning nurse and 28% more likely to receive a concealable form of birth control, leading to a 57% reduction in unwanted births. Women are more likely to use contraceptives when given the opportunity privately; this effect was concentrated among those women who reported wanting fewer children than their husbands. Meanwhile, there is no significant effect of private information when the couple has concordant fertility preferences or when the wife desires more children than her husband. Providing cheaper and more convenient forms of birth control led to a reduction in unwanted births only when women were also given full autonomy over accessing these new methods: although use of modern methods increased by a substantial amount among women in the Couples treatment relative to a control group who received no voucher, they experienced no corresponding reduction in unwanted births.


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Nava Ashraf is an Associate Professor in the Negotiations, Organizations, and Markets Unit at Harvard Business School. Professor Her research combines psychology and economics, using both lab and field experiments to test insights from behavioral economics in the context of global development in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia.

Professor Ashraf also conducts research on questions of intra-household decision making in the areas of finance and fertility. Her research is published in leading journals including the American Economic Review, the Quarterly Journal of Economics and the Journal of Economic Perspectives. Her recent field experiments have been carried out jointly with the Ministries of Health and Education in Zambia in the areas of health services delivery and educational investment.

Professor Ashraf designed and teaches a second year MBA course called Managing Global Health: Applying Behavioral Economics to Create Impact. She also teaches a University-wide Ph.D. course in Field Experiments. She has also taught in the first year MBA sequence on Negotiation, and is part of the Executive Education program of the HBS Social Enterprise Initiative, where she teaches Impact Evaluation and Performance Measurement for Nonprofit Management.  

She is a Faculty Affiliate of the Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT, dedicated to the use of randomized trials as a tool for learning what works in international development, and a Fellow of the National Bureau of Economic Research. Prior to joining HBS, she worked at the World Bank on trade negotiations between Morocco and the European Union, as a consultant for several nonprofit organizations in developing countries, and as founder of a business skills training institute for women in west Africa.

Professor Ashraf received her Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University in 2005, and her BA in Economics and International Relations from Stanford University. She has been awarded a Queen's Jubilee Medal for service by the Government of Canada, and is the youngest person ever to receive the Order of British Columbia.

Learn more about Professor Ashraf's research in a Harvard magazine cover article.