The standard empowerment model underlying gender policies by international organisations emphasises women's access to resources. This paper presents an exploratory analysis of the relative importance of access to resources as compared with women's agency, recognising that this agency may be limited by gendered institutional constraints. It presents a cross-country analysis with a variety of formal and informal gendered institutions, access to resources and well-being achievements. The regression analysis suggests that women's empowerment depends both on access to resources (positively) and on gendered institutions (negatively), with different institutions affecting different dimensions of empowerment. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.