Drawing on survey and ethnographic data, this article presents empirical evidence regarding the impact of work participation on poor women's lives in urban Bangladesh. Working for pay is common among poor, married women in Dhaka and working women commonly make an important contribution to household income. There is evidence that working women are more likely to manage money, shop for household provisions and move about outside the home than non-working women. Working women also appear better able to accumulate personal assets and take steps to secure their own well-being. Despite such signs of challenge to ‘traditional’ gender identity, social and economic structures continue to be heavily weighted against women, limiting the impact of employment on other dimensions of their lives. In the acutely insecure urban setting, women (and men) are found to pursue multiple strategies aimed at both securing ‘centrality’ within their families, as well as protecting personal interests should familial entitlements prove unreliable.