Gender Learning 2021 - Women in the Work Force: How to Get Them In, What Keeps Them In, and Why Do We Care?


"Results from contexts as diverse as rural Chad, urban Djibouti, and Nairobi highlight that liquidity constraints are a key barrier to women’s economic empowerment."

This Bite+ presents new evidence on the effectiveness of cash grants and workfare programs in getting women to enter the labor force. Results highlight how unconditional cash grants can be effective tools at getting women to enter into the labor force and to invest in entrepreneurial activity. Results from contexts as diverse as rural Chad, urban Djibouti, and Nairobi highlight that liquidity constraints are a key barrier to women’s economic empowerment. The first three papers presented will also discuss whether mitigating liquidity constraints in the short run can affect longer-term employment. In particular, the session highlights that social norms mediate the effectiveness of interventions aimed at increasing women’s labor force participation. The session concludes with work on the impacts of women’s participation in workfare on household decision-making linked to women’s labor force participation.

1. Women at work. Women were randomly assigned offers to be employed in a workfare program, leading to a net increase in labor supply of over 50 percentage points: 96 percent of the women accepted the offers and 73 percent of women performed the work themselves. We observed none of the longer-term effects on labor supply by women that would have been observed if the increases in women’s employment had changed prevailing social norms on women working. Indeed, the women who received the temporary employment offer reverted back to non-participation in the labor market when the program ended. This suggests that, in urban Djibouti, what keeps women from participating in the labor market is not so much deterrent social norms but limited employment opportunities.

2. Cash transfers and women’s productive activities in ultra-poor settings. A cash transfer in Chad increased consumption per capita and concomitantly decreased experiential food insecurity. There are significant intensive and extensive margin increases in non-agricultural entrepreneurship, largely driven by gains to women-owned enterprises. However, there were very different effects on men: while the value of their harvest increases, they sold less of it, likely due to vertical integration within the household. Even in the poorest settings, cash transfers thus increased both consumption and investments but with significant intrahousehold heterogeneity.

3. A Firm of One's Own. This study presents results from a randomized evaluation of two labor market interventions targeted to young women aged 18 to 19 years in three of Nairobi's poorest neighborhoods. One treatment offered participants a bundled intervention designed to simultaneously relieve credit and human capital constraints; a second treatment provided women with an unrestricted cash grant, but no training or other support. Both interventions had economically large and statistically significant impacts on income over the medium term (7 to 10 months after the end of the interventions), but these impacts dissipated in the second year after treatment

4. Can public works increase women’s empowerment and autonomy? Can women’s participation in public works contribute to closing the gender gap in autonomy? We randomize participation and participant sex in World Food Program cash-for-work programs that target poor households in six countries. We leverage this variation to estimate the impacts of women’s participation in the program, adjusting for household impacts of program participation, on women’s autonomy.

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Course Details

  • Language: English
  • Mode: Journey