Researchers argue that programmes promoting SHGs often attract women already active in the public domain (‘self-selection effect’), excluding those most in need of assistance. This exaggerates estimates of the effects of the programme (‘programme effects’). This paper attempts to test the significance of the programme effect of SHGs by comparing empowerment levels of newly inducted and older members of SHGs, based on a survey conducted in six municipalities in West Bengal, India. Results indicate that programme effects operated only to reduce tolerance of domestic violence and enhance status of members within the household. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.