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Effects on Household Labor of Temporary Out-migration by Male Household Heads in Nicaragua and Peru: an Analysis of Spot-check Time Allocation Data Using Mixed-effects Models


When adult males are temporarily away from the household, observational evidence suggests cross-cultural and intra-cultural variation in the effects of their absence on the labor of other household members. In subsistence-based econ- omies, we predict that other adolescent or older members will work more in essential production activities that otherwise would be performed by the missing men. We test this hypoth- esis using spot-check time allocation datasets from rural Nicaragua and Peru and the methodology of mixed-effects statistical models. In Nicaragua, we find that the absence of male household heads rarely necessitates substitute labor by household co-residents, apparently because men typically time their absences to coincide with the non-peak agricultural season. In Peru, the absence of male household heads results in increased men’s work by co-residents only under unusual circumstances, as households apparently rely on other strate- gies to mitigate for the loss of labor. In addition to the com- parative empirical analysis of the two cases, we show how mixed-effects models allow for individual heterogeneity and data structures that confound more familiar statistical techni- ques and occasionally produce spurious results. Mixed-effects modeling techniques will be necessary if we are to realize the analytic potential of the extensive, standardized time al- location datasets gathered by anthropologists.

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