In most household surveys, headship is not defined by objective criteria but is self-identified by respondents. The first part of this article examines whether self-reported heads in South Africa are those household members in whom more control over decision-making is vested. Although the head is typically found to be the oldest household member, there is also a strong relationship between headship and the highest income-earner in the household. Furthermore, heads have final say over decisions even when they do not earn the most income. This is the case particularly in households headed by women. The second part of the article evaluates whether the gender of the head provides a useful marker for distinguishing between household types and their access to resources. Female- and male-headed households are not homogeneous groupings, and male-headed households are not equally advantaged. However, female-headed households in South Africa on average contain fewer income-earners, whose income is also lower, than male-headed households. Overall, therefore, households headed by women are considerably more likely to be economically vulnerable.