Understanding Women’s Financial Decision-Making: Insights From a Photovoice Study in India

This study aims to identify factors that influence women’s adoption of digital savings products, as well as ways in which those products may impact women’s savings and economic empowerment. Our study targets low-to-middle-income married women in Delhi. However, our attempts to conduct a survey involving direct questions about participants’ spending and savings proved difficult, as respondents were hesitant to share personal financial information. Asking direct questions about financial matters in a survey format can be perceived as intrusive. This realization led us back to the drawing board to reconsider how to capture women’s financial decision-making in a less invasive manner.

In response, we pivoted to a novel qualitative approach. Specifically, we used photovoice, a participatory research method using photographs. This approach illuminated women’s perspectives on financial decision-making and the role of digital finance in their lives. Creative qualitative methods can unveil aspects of participants’ financial lives that may be difficult to articulate in verbal interviews, such as nuanced contexts, details, and emotions. In this blog post, we summarize our key findings from the photovoice component of the study and detail the effectiveness of photovoice as a qualitative research method.

Pivoting Toward Participatory Research Methods

Recruiting women for our study proved to be a complex task. Low-to-middle-income women in India are often reluctant to openly discuss financial matters, especially in a research setting. Therefore, building trust and establishing rapport was essential to create an environment where participants were comfortable sharing their experiences.  To achieve this, we approached potential participants through trusted community members and ensured their anonymity. Ultimately, we successfully recruited a diverse group of women.

Photo Credit: Ritika Divekar

Field adjustments: Respondents who did not have a personal smartphone sketched their significant purchases in the photovoice exercise.

To delve deeper into our respondents’ perspectives, we utilized photovoice in addition to in-depth interviews. Photovoice¹ is a participatory research method that empowers individuals to share their stories through photographs. We asked participants to use their phones to capture a picture of a significant purchase they had made or wanted to make. This approach enabled us to bypass direct questioning and allowed the participants to express themselves visually and personally. We ensured that our data collection team was trained to probe effectively, as we wanted the follow-up questions to depend largely on the photos shared with us. Photovoice provided a unique platform for our participants to reflect on their financial decisions and share insights that might otherwise remain unspoken.

Women Share Their Stories Through Images

Through the photovoice exercise, we discovered the motivations behind women’s purchases and observed patterns in their decision-making processes. While some participants showed (via image) luxury items or home renovations, most highlighted that their spending choices are influenced by their children’s needs and aspirations, such as educational expenses or weddings. Additionally, most participants indicated that their spouses and sometimes other family members play an active role in their decision-making and that they seek mutual agreement before making decisions.

Importantly, we also identified disparities in household decision-making power based on traditional gender roles. Disagreements between couples were common, especially with regard to larger financial purchases such as a new house. Participants emphasized the importance of communication and revisiting topics with their partners until a consensus was reached. However, many participants felt that men still held more authority regarding financial matters, which often led them to ultimately accept their partners’ decisions or make sacrifices to avoid conflict.

Although we simply asked participants to share an image of a significant purchase they had made, many voluntarily contextualized their photos and divulged the hidden stories behind them. These details allowed us to better understand their decision-making. Additionally, this context provided important insights into how intra-couple communication can affect joint decision-making.

Participatory research methods like photovoice offer key benefits over quantitative methods. We found that participants were more responsive and willing to share their experiences when prompted by personal photos rather than by quantitative survey questions, which generated limited responses. While a quantitative approach would have allowed us to determine what specific purchases were prioritized by our participants, photovoice allowed us to understand the dynamics and motivations behind their financial decisions. We discovered that most participants prioritized purchases based on a sense of duty toward their children; these purchases ranged from educational expenses to simply purchasing sweets and treats for enjoyment. While the final decision-making authority for household decisions still commonly rested with  men, female participants emphasized joint decision-making to the extent that it avoided conflict in the household.

Looking Ahead

The benefits of photovoice were evident in this context, where a lack of trust was observed, and financial information was sensitive. Despite challenges in recruitment and cultural norms surrounding financial discussions, we uncovered complex gender dynamics in our sample. The use of photovoice generated valuable insights into how women navigate intra-couple financial decision-making. It is evident that while women are actively involved in household decision-making, power imbalances and gender roles can impact their agency and ability to assert their own preferences. Future research and interventions should focus on addressing these gender disparities and promoting open dialogue by creating safe and inclusive spaces where women feel comfortable expressing their financial goals, concerns, and aspirations.



[1] Wang, C., & Burris, M. A. (1997). Photovoice: concept, methodology, and use for participatory needs assessment. Health education & behavior: the official publication of the Society for Public Health Education, 24(3), 369–387.


Kaavya Arakoni, Associate at Busara Center for Behavioral Economics
Ritika Divekar, Analyst at Busara Center for Behavioral Economics
Jaspreet Singh, Senior Associate at Busara Center for Behavioral Economics