Common Tragedies

Thoughts on Environmental Economics

Electricity as female empowerment

Posted by Daniel Hall on February 19, 2008

This paper investigates the employment effects of a mass roll-out of household electrification in rural South Africa. … My findings show that cooking with wood falls sharply in treated areas over a five-year period, and lighting and cooking with electricity increase substantially. IV employment results indicate asymmetric responses by gender: female employment rates increase by 13.5 percentage points in treated areas, while there are no significant male effects. Middle-poor communities respond most to the new option to use electricity, and employment effects are large for women in their thirties and forties who are less constrained by child-care responsibilities.

That is Taryn Dinkelman, graduating from Michigan, in her job market paper. The basic story is that when you spend a few hours per day tied up in home production — collecting wood and cooking — the provision of electricity can free up significant time for other opportunities. Note that the poorest households don’t benefit as much, probably because while connections were completely subsidized in South Africa, the poorest households remain less able to afford the appliances that use electricity. Also note that this is a very large employment effect on the extensive margin: the female employment rate is 7% in her study area.

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