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Gender inequality in the developing world

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 4623 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Gender differences in labour market outcomes affect whether women enter the marketplace, care for children, or partake in other labour activities. In the developing world, gender differences in political access and wages can have large effects on the well-being of females and their families. Discuss gender differences that exist in the developing world, why they are important, and what role they play in shaping outcomes of females and children. Are there policy prescriptions that would increase societal welfare?



On Gender differences and well-being………………………………4

Gender Discrimination, Property Rights and Investment in Agriculture…………………………………………………………..6

Impact of Reservations in India on Policy Decisions……………….8

Prevalence of adverse sex ratio …………………………………….11

Where are all the “Missing Women” ……………………………….12




For centuries, women have played the role of a homemaker, caring for her children. While men were the breadwinners of the family. This stereotypical image of men and women, though less profound is still to be found in many parts of the world. This is especially true of the developing countries. Biologically, women and men are different, beyond the obvious. Their brains function differently. Hormonal differences make them behave in different ways. However, the “sexist” attitude towards gender differences has been forced not only by the government, but also by almost all the institutions of public life.

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In the developing world, we frequently find that women are discriminated against by men. In many countries, a girl-child is considered to be a burden, and may not receive the same care that a boy would. A woman is often forbidden to work outside the house as the society frowns upon such activities. And also women continually receive lower wages than men for the same work.

In the past decade, the governments of many countries have put into place many policies to help empower women. Some policies have been successful, while others have not done much to reduce this gender gap. Various studies have been conducted to see whether the policies were actually implemented, and if yes, what impact they had on women’s welfare.

Many studies have been conducted to measure the impact of these biases against women, on the welfare of their families, on their well-being, and their status in society.

On Gender differences & Well-being

One such study by Esther Duflo (2000) measures the impact of a cash transfer, specifically old age pension, on the nutritional status of a child, depending on the gender of the recipient.

Policies targeted towards improving women’s position relative to men’s are desired not only for equity basis, but also for the effects they may have on children’s welfare. Being malnourished can affect a child’s physical and mental health. Hence, receiving adequate nutrition at a young age is important for economic growth, distribution, and welfare. Thomas (1990, 1994) found evidence that income or assets in the hands of women are associated with larger improvements in child health, and larger expenditure shares on household nutrients, health and housing (Duflo, 2000; pg.1). Her paper investigates whether redistributing resources from men to women would increase investment in children.

With the end of the apartheid the benefits and coverage of the South African social pension program was expanded in the early 1990’s to include the black population. The program was successfully implemented with almost a universal coverage. This led to a permanent exogenous change in income, after household formation. Most families are extended households, and over a quarter of African children under the age of five live with a pension recipient. The paper takes into account the weight for height, and height for age of children below the age of five to see whether the pension recipients’ gender has any effect on these indicators.

The South African social pension was started in 1928, but it was only after 1993 that the same amount was paid to all racial groups. Women over 60 years, and men over 65 years are eligible for pension, subject to a means test. During the Apartheid era, the system was racially discriminatory in many respects. Firstly, different means tests were applied to each race. For Blacks benefits were withdrawn for incomes larger than R700, while for Whites the limit was at R2250. Secondly, benefits for Whites were 10 times higher than those for Blacks. Thirdly, Whites received pensions through postal offices, while Blacks had to collect their pension through mobile pay points that didn’t cover much area. Finally, officials often intentionally took people off the list, or limited access of legally eligible Blacks to save the cost of pensions.

The weight for height of children reflects short run nutrition and illnesses and recovers quickly once proper nutrition is resumed. The nutrition in turn is determined by individual preferences, non-labour income, the weights given to members of the household, and child specific variables. Before controlling for the presence of non-eligible members over 50, the coefficient for girls is positive but insignificant. However, when the controls are introduced it improves the weight for height of girls by 1.19 standard deviations, if pension is received by a woman. For boys, the coefficient is positive, but insignificant. However, a pension received by a man has a small, negative and insignificant effect on girls’ weight for height. Also it seems that there exists an all female link, as the pension seems to be most effective if received by the mothers’ mother. Some problems which may bias upward the estimates of the effect of pension on weight for height are discussed and are as follows; Firstly, being a three generation would mean that the household is relatively healthy. Secondly, the pension program might have led to a change in the composition of the household. For this Duflo examines the height for age of young children, as this reflects nutrition status over the life of the child.

Height for age is different from weight for height, in the sense that it depends on accumulated investments over the life of the child. Nutrition at a very early age has long lasting consequences on child height. And the possibility of catch-up skeletal growth after an episode of low growth in infancy is limited (Duflo, 2000; pg.13). Her basic idea is to compare the differences between height of children in eligible and non-eligible households and between children exposed to the program for a fraction of their lives and children exposed all their lives. Results show that pensions received by women led to an increase of 1.16 standard deviations in the height of girls, and had a much smaller effect on boys. While pensions received by men didn’t have any impact on the height of either girls or boys.

Duflo concludes that the nutritional status of a girl improves significantly if the pension receiver is a woman, and has an insignificant negative effect if the pension receiver is a man. She tests for these by measuring the weight for height, and height for age of children between 6 to 60 months of age. Also this result rejects the unitary model of the household and suggests that pensions received to women may increase efficiency more than pensions received by men.

Gender Discrimination, Property Rights and Investment in Agriculture

It is often the quality of the economic institutions of a society that determine its economic growth. This is especially true of property rights, as investment incentives depend upon expectations of rights over returns to that investment. Goldstein and Udry (2004) conduct a study in Akwapim, Ghana and examine the connection between property rights and agricultural investment, and in turn to agricultural productivity. In much of Africa the Western notions of private property doesn’t exist. Most of the land cultivated by farmers is controlled by the local leaders. It is allocated to individuals, and families based on their perceived need and political influence.

In many African societies, agricultural production is managed by individuals or households. Soil fertility primarily depends on an individuals’ decision regarding the span of the fallow period, i.e. when the land is left uncultivated to regain fertility. Rights over a plot can be lost while it is fallow, and induces shortening of the fallow period. There also exist opportunity costs and transition costs associated with fallowing.

They select four village clusters, and within each cluster they select 60 married couples. They measure productivity via returns to cassava/maize cultivation on similar plots of men and women within a household in a given year. Conditioning on plot characteristics and household fixed effects, they find women produce much less cassava/maize than their husbands. Hence, earn lower profits. They also find that education and age are not responsible for this difference in productivity. They do however find that duration of the last fallow period is strongly positively related to current profits. Gender of the cultivator has no effects on profits, once they condition for the duration of the last fallow.

Tenure security seems to be closely related to fallow decisions. Due to the complex and flexible property rights women often rely on allocated household land, given by their husbands. Men are more active on the land market. A primary reason for uncertainty of tenure, especially for women, is that leaving the land fallow might weaken future rights over the plot. Leaving the land fallow, might signal a lack of sufficient need by the village heads. A second model is based on the idea that tenure security varies with the political position and method of acquisition of land.

Their results reflect that tenure security depends highly on the individuals’ position in the political and social hierarchy. But even conditioning on the individuals position, it depends on the circumstances through which she obtained the particular plot. The complex and overlapping rights to land act as barriers to investment in land fertility. The difference in profits within a household, from similar plots can be attributed to the fact that women are generally not in a position of power. They tend to leave land fallow for a shorter duration, to maintain their rights over the plot.

Impact of Reservations in India on Policy Decisions

In a paper by Chattopadhyay & Duflo (2004) they study the impact of political reservations on women’s leadership and policy decisions. They show that reservation of seats for women impact the investment decisions on public goods and are biased towards the gender of the Pradhan.

In 1993 an amendment to the constitution of India made it mandatory for all village councils (GP’s) to reserve one-third of all positions of chief (Pradhan) to women. The paper focuses on two districts, Birbhum in West Bengal, and Udaipur in Rajastan, and compares investments made in reserved and unreserved GP’s. The major responsibilities of the GP are to administer local infrastructure, and identify targeted welfare recipients. The main source of funding is the state, and the money is allocated through four broad schemes: the Jwahar Rozgar Yojana for infrastructure, a small drinking water scheme, funds for welfare programs, and a grant for GP functioning. The GP has full flexibility in allocation of these funds.

The Panchayat is required to setup two meetings per year in which all voters may participate. Additionally, the Pradhan must setup regular office hours, where villagers can lodge complaints.

In both Rajastan, and West Bengal the policy was strictly implemented. And women elected once due to the reservation system were not re-elected. A rationale for reservations for women is that, the cost of running for office is higher for a woman than for a man. These high costs can prevent women from participating in the political process in the absence of reservations. So the two candidates must have an equal chance of winning. The outcome will then be symmetric around the median voter. Also, when women run because of the reservation, this can increase women’s utility and the median voter’s utility.

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Some limitations of this model are: Firstly, when the Pradhan is a woman it might be easier for women to influence policy process ex-post, moving policy in a pro-woman direction. Secondly, after reservation, relatively weak women with strong pro-women views will be as likely to run as strong women with more moderate preferences. Thirdly, the model ignores the possibility of strategic behaviour on the part of the elected official, which would exist in case of future elections.

Chattopadhyay & Duflo (2004) use the data on formal requests and complaints that are brought to the Pradhan. Since complaining is costly (time consuming), the complaints reasonably measure preferences of individuals. Women are more likely to have a higher cost of complaining given the social norms that limit their mobility, and conditions under which they can speak to a man. Hence, women’s complaints will be more biased towards extreme preferences. In the model, allocations are made closer to women’s needs in reserved GP’s because of the selection of women candidates and possibly due to the reduced cost of speaking to a women, and not because women are more responsive to complaints of women.

Authors find that in West Bengal, drinking water and roads were the issues most frequently raised by women. Next were welfare programs, followed by housing and electricity. Issues of roads, irrigation, drinking water and education were raised by men. In Rajasthan, drinking water, roads, and welfare programs were the issues most frequently raised by women. This pattern reflects the activities of both men and women in these areas. Women are in charge of collecting drinking water, and benefit from the welfare programs. In West Bengal, they work on roads. In Rajasthan, both men and women work on roads, and so have a common motive. But, men travel frequently in search of jobs and so have a stronger need for good roads. In both Rajasthan and West Bengal the gender of the Pradhan affects the provision of public goods. Individual women are not particularly more responsive to the needs of women and men in their communities. Rather it is because their own preferences are more aligned to the preferences of women that they end up serving them better. These results are unaffected when controlled for the Pradhans characteristics ( like education, experience, social status etc). This suggests that the allocation of public goods can be largely attributed to the gender of the Pradhan, rather than on its other effects.

Prevalence of adverse sex ratio

The aim of the paper by Khanna et al (2003) is to determine whether the skewed sex ratio in India can be explained by less favourable treatment of girls in infancy. They measure deaths from all causes in infants aged less than one year, in a community health project undertaken in urban India.

According to the 2001 census in India, the sex ratio was at 933 females per 1000 males. Ordinarily, females outnumber males, possibly because the extra X chromosome makes them less susceptible to infectious diseases. However, the skewed sex ratio in India suggests the existence of sex discrimination. Despite the banning of sex determination tests, the practise of female infanticide has continued. Even after birth, mortality remains higher in females, and girls are more than 30%-50% more likely to die between their 1st and 5th birthdays. Various studies have shown that compared to boys, girls are often brought to health centres at a more advanced stage of illness, are taken to less qualified doctors, and have less money spent on them.

The basis of their study is the record of deaths maintained by midwives working in St. Stephens Hospital in Delhi. The hospital caters mostly to the poor, who have an average per capita income of Rs. 600 per month. The combined population of the area is about 64000 people.

The results find a significant difference in mortality between girls and boys for diarrhoea and unexplained deaths. But there was no significant difference between deaths from less preventable and less treatable diseases. For diarrhoea, the mortality for girls was twice that of boys. In the case of unexplained deaths, the parents weren’t able to give a satisfactory explanation for the cause of death. Most deaths were of females in this group, and were thrice as much as those in boys. Although the cause of these deaths is unexplained, improvement in access of health care, and education of health professionals to pay more attention to girls could be beneficial.

Where are all the “Missing Women”

In her paper “Gender equality in Development” Ester Duflo (2005) addresses the interrelationship between economic development and gender empowerment – particularly in the spheres of education, health, employment opportunities and political power. Empowerment can accelerate development. It is estimated that there are between 60 to 100 million “missing women” in developing countries. The term “missing women” was coined by Amartya Sen to describe the observation that the proportion of women is lower than what would be expected, if women in the developing countries were not discriminated against.

Economic development leads to a reduction in poverty, by relaxing the constraints faced by poor households. This suggests that economic growth, by increase opportunity and alleviating poverty, can lead to more equity between women and men.

Studies find that women are most likely to be discriminated against when ill or when the household faces a crisis, such as food scarcity. Here, an improvement in health services, or free medical insurance for the poor would disproportionately help the women. Also increasing the ability of poor households when they face a crisis would improve the condition of women more. Hence, economic development reduces poverty. It insures the poorest against sickness and hunger. Thus, economic development, though reducing the vulnerability of the poor, helps women disproportionately.

Similarly, the increase in opportunities in the labour market has led to change in households, moving it towards greater gender equality. Earlier, it was perceived that since women don’t work outside the house, they don’t need to as strong and health, and don’t require formal education. Many parents believed that girls don’t need formal education as they’re expected to only marry and take care of the house. The rise in employment opportunities for women has led to favourable outcomes for women in terms of equity.

Duflo finds evidence that economic development isn’t enough to improve the condition of women. The skewed sex ratio favouring boys has persisted and even worsened in China, despite rapid economic growth and reforms. This illustrates the fact that economic growth, and availability of technology, can have perverse effects on gender equality, if it reduces the cost of discrimination against girls.

Another aspect is the disparity in earnings at all levels of qualification. There is a widespread “implicit” bias, shared by both men and women, associating men with career and sciences, and women with family and liberal arts. And this “stereotype” has persisted despite increased women participation in these disciplines. This bias reduces rewards for women participation in the labour market, or for higher education, by persuading them that they aren’t as good as men. As long as these biases exist, gender equality will not be achieved.

Similarly, while various factors hinder the representation of women in politics, one of the strongest barriers to greater participation of women in politics is the notion that women are not competent leaders. This bias is most pronounced when the leadership role is typically considered a male role. And although many studies confirm that women are better policymakers, and are less corrupt, it seems there’s a significant cultural barrier to recognizing women as competent policymakers.

Evidence such as those above, support the idea of “reservations” or quotas for women in policymaking positions, as perceptions are biased and women’s achievements aren’t recognised by the electorate. To achieve a balanced gender representation in politics it seems that policy action need to be taken.

Yet, the gains from policies targeted towards women, come at an expense for men. This is evident in politics. The reservation of seats for women means that a man doesn’t get the seat. The gains are less explicit in the measures taken to improve access of girls to schools, through say, scholarships, or proper bathrooms in schools. These are expensive, and in developing countries these transfers to girls come, at the direct expense of boys. This transfer spent on scholarships could have alternatively been used to hire more teachers, which would’ve benefited both boys and girls.

Thus, policies which favour women need to be justified, not only to bring about gender equality, but also their desirability taking in account their costs. In the second part of the paper, the author (Duflo, 2005; p.10) examines the justification that the trade-off between various people in the short run is transitory; in the long run there is no trade-off between helping women more and helping everyone, because increasing the share of resources going to women will increase the amount of resources so much that everyone will be better off.

The basic arguments that support active policies to support women are; Firstly, women are currently worse-off than men, and this inequality is offensive in itself. Secondly, women play a fundamental role in development. The gender gap in education, politics, and employment should therefore be reduced not only for equity, but also to increase efficiency.

The argument that empowerment raises efficiency has shaped economic policies the world over. Micro-credit schemes, welfare programs, transfers conditioned on school enrolment, reservations in politics have all been directed towards women.

The argument for efficiency proposes that sending girls to school, or improving their employment opportunities is good because the development outcome is higher for a given increase in the education and earnings of women than from an equal increase in the education and earnings of men.

Although substantial studies find a correlation between a woman’s’ education and earnings with child welfare, she (Duflo, 2005; p.11) points out that there are two fundamental problems with interpretation of these results. Firstly, a woman’s education, earnings, and political participation may be correlated with unobserved dimensions of her ability, family, and community background. Secondly, the comparison between the coefficient of husbands’ and wives’ education or earnings might be obscured by a correlation between wives’ education or earnings and unobserved characteristics of husbands.

To get around these problems, researchers analysed specific circumstances that changed the distribution of power, education, or earnings between husbands and wives and had nothing to do with their individual choices.

Duflo concludes that women’s empowerment and economic development are closely interrelated. While development brings about women empowerment, empowering women changes decision making, which directly impacts development. She suggests that in order to bring about gender equality, it might be necessary to continue taking policy actions that favour women at the expense of men for a very long time. And while this might bring about some benefits, the costs associated with such redistribution might not always be sufficient to compensate for the distortions.


It can be concluded from the above literature that in the developing world, gender differences exist, and discriminate against women. All spheres of a woman’s life, from the time she is in the womb to the time she dies, are affected by this bias against women. The study conducted in South Africa (Duflo, 2000) finds that a non-contributory cash transfer to an eligible female pensioner actually significantly increases a girls’ welfare, measure by weight for height, and height for age. And that given to a male pensioner has a small insignificant negative effect on girls’ welfare. Similarly when it comes to property rights, women have almost no power and have to depend on their husbands to secure land for them to cultivate (Goldstein & Udry, 2004). In Ghana, property rights are complex, flexible and overlapping. There is no notion of private property. Women also have almost no security of tenure as they are not in a position of power in the political or social hierarchy. This leads to a shorter fallow duration, which means lower productivity and hence, lower profits than their male counterparts working a similar plot. This leads to inefficiency and lower economic growth. In the political sphere, women are under-represented, which has adverse impacts on women’s utility (Chattopadhyay & Duflo, 2004). Reservations however have changed the picture, but is not due to women being more responsive to women’s needs, but rather depends on the gender of the leader. The study concludes that the reserved GP’s invest more in public goods important for women than the un-reserved GP’s. This helps to improve women’s utility, even if indirectly. Another aspect is the skewed sex ratio observed in India, and many other developing countries. This is due to the perception that girls are a burden on their parents (Khanna et. al. 2003). This can be blamed on the lack of access for women to health, education, politics, employments, and biased societal norms.

Finally, it can be conclude that policies that benefit women such as reservations in politics, scholarships for girls etc. are necessary, even if they come at the expense of men. Not only because they lead to efficiency gains and economic development, but also because the discrimination between men and women is not acceptable in itself. The stereotypical image of women has continued, despite the fact that more and more women have forayed into supposedly male dominated areas and excelled. This discrimination is present not only in the developing world, but also in the developed countries, like USA where the wage-gap between men and women exists till today.


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