Skip to main content

Review of intrahousehold allocation of food/energy in various situations and varying degrees of food insecurity

  • Special Report
  • Global
  • October 17, 2015
Review of intrahousehold allocation of food/energy in various situations and varying degrees of food insecurity

Download the Report

  • Summary

  • Summary

    This paper reviews the published literature summarizing key issues and findings related to intrahousehold allocation of food and energy in various situations and degrees of food insecurity. Food allocation within a household is either distributed equally or unequally to favor one or more members of the household. The unequal distribution can be explained generally by two patterns, a Needs rule in which a higher proportion of the household’s food is allocated to those with greater need, or a Contribution rule in which a greater amount (and/or quality) of food is allocated to those with higher economic value (1). According to the Needs rule, children would be allocated more or better quality food to support their higher needs (in proportion to their body weight) for growth than adults and pregnant or lactating women would be allocated more food to support their increased needs. According to the Contribution rule, the adult male or other working member of the household would receive more and/or greater quality food because of their economic value to the household. While these patterns have been observed in many developing country settings with known high levels of food insecurity, it is unclear if or how these rules of food allocation may be impacted by a severe food crisis.

    A recent review of literature on intrahousehold food allocation concluded that “it is reasonable to assume equitable intrahousehold distribution of food when designing food fortification programs” (2). However, the author acknowledged the marked variation in findings, which appeared to indicate no systematic bias towards one age or sex group within the household but trends varying in different cultural situations or geographical locations. This review paper will examine many of these studies as well as other studies found through Pubmed searches, gray literature searches via Google, and articles that were referenced in other articles. In studies that report quantitative data on energy intakes, the primary method to assess whether there is bias towards one individual or another within the household is to calculate an energy adequacy ratio defined as the energy intake divided by the energy requirement of the individual which depend on body size and assumed physical activity level. Studies which only report differences in absolute energy intake between household members were not included in this review because the absolute intakes are expected to be different due to different needs and do not necessarily reflect differential partitioning of food. The discussion of findings is divided into five sections by the following topics: age bias, gender bias among children, gender bias among adults, intrahousehold food allocation during seasonal food scarcity, and intrahousehold food allocation during other food stress situations. Findings from an individual study may be reported under more than one section.

    Get the latest food security updates in your inbox Sign up for emails

    The information provided on this Website is not official U.S. Government information and does not represent the views or positions of the U.S. Agency for International Development or the U.S. Government.

    Jump back to top