Author(s): Selim Guelsci
I show that labor-tying (being in a labor contract where the employer also acts as an insurance-provider) is an important channel through which the poor in rural Bangladesh insure themselves against risks. Using a theoretical framework adapted from Bardhan (1983), I analyze the effects of an exogenous increase in the outside options of poor women (through an improvement in their self-employment opportunities) on their and their spouses' participation in tied labor, as well as the general equilibrium effects of the treatment on the terms of the labor contracts in the village. I find that treated women and their spouses are less likely to be in tied-labor contracts. Their wages increase through two channels: (a) due to the switch from tied to casual labor contracts (b) through the general equilibrium effects in the village labor market. Furthermore, I find that the treated households form reciprocal transfer links with wealthier households in the village. These findings imply that poor households may be involved in second-best labor contracts to insure themselves against risks. When their self-employment opportunities improve, they break these ties and move to greater reliance on reciprocal transfer arrangements.
Keywords: tied labor, poverty, rural labor market
JEL codes: J43; O12; I32