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Parker Skinner

Duflo’s paper continues Tuesday’s class discussion on Sen surrounding women’s empowerment and development. Sen’s take revealed the conceptual feedback loop between agency and treatment as it pertains to the overall well-being of women. Agency will bring about better treatment, leading to further increases in agency by women. These changes lead to development according to Sen. “Women Empowerment and Economic Development” questions the relationship between the two. She concludes that while interrelated, it cannot be stated that a “one-time impulsion of women’s rights will spark a virtuous circle, with women’s empowerment and development mutually reinforcing each other and women eventually being equal partners in richer societies.”
I found the India example indicative of the future of policy decisions. The quota policy has lead to positive outcomes for the empowerment of women in many avenues. For example, power both within and outside of the household and decreased gaps in education were proven to be a result. Duflo concludes her paper with “ it will be necessary to continue to take policy actions that favor women at the expense of men, and it may be necessary to continue doing so for a very long time.” Here we can see her perspective on policy and its relation to empowerment and therefore, development. Even if there are not clear empirical results, improving women’s overall well-being can benefit them in a way that cannot be viewed as negative.


Ester Duflo's article, Women Empowerment and Economic Development does a great job of explaining the role that economic development plays in advancing women empowerment. While the explanations in this section of the paper were somewhat though provoking, I was far more taken aback by the argument that women's empowerment (aside from being good in and of itself in a moral sense) could also be a catalyst of economic development. This was an idea that had never crossed my mind and I was quite interested from the beginning to learn more.

Duflo's arguement that economic development development can cause women empowerment seems pretty intuitive, but I've never seen that causes and effects laid out as clearly and simply as Duflo did in this paper. Section 2.2 really stuck out to me in particular and really made me think about how systemic some of the issues faced by women in developing nations are and just how difficult they will be to fix. In this section Duflo point out the fact that carrying a child is an inherently dangerous task and plays a part in explaining the "missing girls" theory. While I was aware that child birth was obviously a dangerous task (and especially in a developing nation that may lack the healthcare infrastructure needed to deal with labor complications), I never thought about the fact that some families had a real economic incentive to invest more money in boys who would never face the risk related with child birth. After reading this paper (and that section in particular) it is now considerably easier to see how economic growth is directly linked to health care infrastructure development which in turn directly lowers maternal mortality rate and make millions more women "worth " the increased cost of human capital investment.

I happened to find Duflo's next argument even more interesting: how empowering women can be a catalyst for economic growth in and of its self. This didn't seem as intuitive to me as Duflo's first point but Duflo's did make some interesting point as to how this could indeed be a possibility. The section that stood out the most to me in this part of the article was Duflo's section on Women as decision makers. One of the point Duflo brings up is that, all things equal, adding another child into a family makes them effectively poorer because families are instantly forced to feed more mouths (that won't be productive for year to come) with the same amount of resources. Duflo skillfully points out that giving women access to family planning (regardless of whether or not their husbands know about it) can help women plan their families more efficiently, reduce the number of children per family, and thus lead MORE economically prosperous lives with LESS children in the household. This was a very interesting take on how women's empowerment can actually increase economic well being and one that I had never considered before.

After reading this article, it is even more apparent to me that simply hoping equality will come along as a side effect of economic development is not enough. Instead more drastic social reforms like quotas or other policies that promote women's empowerment also play a huge role in boosting economic property for everyone in both developed and developing nations.

Adrian Lam

Personally, I thought Duflo’s piece “Women Empowerment and Economic Development” was an excellent read that tied together many details from our class discussions and Amartya Sen’s Development as Freedom. To begin, the discussion on empowering women and its connection with economic development heavily reminded me of the concepts of dual causality and positive spillover effects. Just like how women’s agency can be both a means and an end, empowering women is a pertinent goal and methodology to achieving economic development.

While I was reading the text, I was constantly reminded of our discussion point during Tuesday’s class about how empowering women should not need to be justified. While it is inevitable that empowering half of the world’s population will lead to beneficial socioeconomic effects, I think it is essential nonetheless to remove the unfreedoms that hinder women from living the lives they value, regardless of how the economy is affected. Besides this note, I thought Duflo demonstrated really well in her piece how enactment of policies that favor empowering women does not always lead to straight-forward, clear-cut results. Just like how our favorite answer in economics is “it depends,” I have learned that issues are often more complex and nuanced than initially suggested. One example Duflo gave was how women’s empowerment can lead to greater investment in children’s health and nutrition, but this investment would occur at the expense of another factor like education.

One of Duflo’s most poignant lines in her paper is when she writes how neither women’s empowerment nor economic development is a perfect solution, “there is no magic bullet…trade-offs remain unavoidable.” These tradeoffs will often benefit one group while potentially compromising the position of another group. This is seen when quota systems for women in parliament increase gender equality but decrease the number of men in positions of power. When we deal with economic tradeoffs, there are often many moral and ethical complexities that arise. Should a policy be enacted as long it leads to a net benefit for more people than the number of people it causes a net detriment towards? Regarding policies like affirmative action, how can we ensure rights of minority groups are not overlooked?

Finally, another reason I really enjoyed reading this paper is because Duflo was vigilant at differentiating between correlation versus causality. When she discusses the correlation between a mother’s education and her child’s health, she acknowledges the presence of other factors and “unobserved dimensions,” such as the mother’s family and community background. This reminds me of a discussion I had in a business class when we were talking about negotiations. If I remember the statistic correctly, men were at least three to five times more likely than women to negotiate their starting salary, which could explain part of the reason behind the gender wage gap. Then again, other social and cultural factors, such as the environments girls are raised in and the expectations society has for girls, may also have influenced why they are less likely to negotiate their salary. Thus, these issues are more complicated than they appear at face value.

Colby Boudreau

Violence and discrimination against women is a very real issue across the world today and one that is not talked about nearly enough in todays discussions of various issues. Duflo’s article touches on many different points and brings the oppression that many women see on a daily basis to light. There are so many different issues that women have to deal with, from child marriage, sex trafficking, violence in households, discrimination in jobs, and so much more. However, one issue that has stuck out to me throughout this course the whole semester is the lack of dedication to education and providing a basis for younger generations to help develop countries. The first exhibit that Duflo uses in her paper shows the rates at which boys vs girls are enrolled in school in low income countries. The disparity between boys and girls attendance in primary school is excessive, as well as the difference in boys vs girls enrolled in secondary school. What stood out to me even more about that data was the nearly 70% reduction in female enrollment in secondary school vs primary school (60%) for males. The graph does not provide statistics for college enrollment, but I would assume the dropoff is even more significant. Developing low income countries that don’t emphasize their education overall, let alone encouraging the gender education gap, is setting both itself and its children for failure. Its been shown that the levels of education are key to developing and sustaining growth as a country, but also for them as individuals. Women deprived of primary and secondary education by default are relegated to the stereotypical home rearing and child raising roles instead of pursuing their dreams of being doctors, lawyers, or politicians. It may not seem as significant in the moment, but relegating women to these roles further entrenches these countries in their poverty traps and stagnates the attempts around the world to recognize women for the equals that they are. This is also definitely an issue in developed countries as well, but I think developing countries need to begin to put outdated norms behind them and start from scratch in trying to empower their young, women and men, and recognize that it will be very difficult to sustain growth with the majority of your population oppressed and left without usable labor skills.


“Women Empowerment and Economic Development” by Esther Duflo is written in a way that really inspires the reader to advocate for positive change for women’s empowerment. It made me want to charge into developing countries and tell them exactly what they need to do in order to take advantage of the developmental benefits of increased women’s economic and political autonomy. After thinking about all the policy recommendations that are available to better the lives of women and girls, I began to think about the early readings and discussions of the course in which we learned how important cultural factors are in determining the effectiveness of policy in various countries. I also finished the reading with Duflo’s concluding thought that in order to bring about gender parity, we must take policy actions that favor women at the expense of men (1053). When considering this and how male dominated the political and family systems of many developing countries are, the task of creating more gender equality seems daunting. Duflo even states that when one cultural burden is lifted off of women which will allow them more freedom, there are often many others standing in the way to drag women right back down. For this reason, I can see why female political representation quotas might be necessary in countries. Women just have so much to overcome, in many cases centuries of oppression, that Duflo’s point about policy that favors women even if it is at the cost of men sometimes is valid. However, these policy measures are unlikely to be enacted with governments that are run by a high percentage of men. Before reading this article, I would have never favored political quotas because I thought this would discourage the best talent from reaching its potential. However, if more women have to be elected, they will make decisions for women that men most likely will not support because it is not on their radar as much. The women in developing countries that spent more money on the access to clean drinking water and roads over other concerns of men illustrate the different perspectives of women needed to have an effective representative democracy. The other really interesting thing I found in this article was that a lot of times impoverished families do not go out of their way to discriminate against their daughters, they are just the first to have their health and nutritional resources cut when emergencies like droughts occur. To me, this suggests a role for the government to provide the extremely poor with enough of a security blanket so that women do not have to suffer when the family has to make tragic choices about resource allocation.

Again: Thank you for the extension to 10 PM!!


Esther Duflo’s paper “Women empowerment and economic development”” argues that economic development will on its own help women’s equality; she ultimately concludes, however, that focusing on development will not completely close the inequality gap between men and women and thus there needs to be specific policies targeting women’s empowerment. Just as development can improve the lives of women, empowering women can also improve economic growth. In one aspect promoting economic growth and alleviating poverty will indeed help women to some extent. Creating better access to healthcare and education will inherently help women of impoverished communities because now it is much easier for families to take their daughters to the doctor or enroll them in school. Reducing poverty and increasing growth with naturally help women. This, however, will only go so far. I think the best example of this is women holding political positions. Only 26 countries world wide met the goal of having 30 percent of women holding national legislative seats. We know that women will target legislation that will help other women. I thought that these ideas fit very nicely into Amartya Sen’s approach to women’s equality and development. Sen argues something very similar as he notions both the treatment towards and agency of women. It’s the agency of women in addition to empowering policies that will benefit women which will have subsequent effects on development. Empowering women and decreasing the equality gender gap is both an ends and a mean to development. I find it shocking that even in a place as developed as the United States that this disparity still exists and the “ends” to this have yet to be made. We know that a women in office will have positive spillover effects on other women in the community as well as overall development. Similar to how we learned about the under investment in research and development because of a marginal social benefit. Could this be similar to how we see not as many women in political position. I think the quota system might not be a bad idea for giving women political representation. Empowering women is first and foremost the right thing to do but it also has the potential to stimulate development.

EC Myers

Late post great post!!

There are some very astounding, and alarming, facts in this article that i'd like to just point out to start with, then I'll move on to a deeper analysis/pondering of one area discussed in the paper. The fact that the life expectancy of males has not improved as much as females, which has increased by 20-25 years. I am surprised that both did not increase the same amonunt. 32 percent of percent of parents in India said that they wanted their sons to graduate from secondary school or college. Its not surprising to me that this number is higher than that of daughters, but I surprised that more parents wouldn't want their children to graduate from secondary school in general. I am wondering if feasibility got mixed up in these results.

Okay now that I've shared my shock, I'd like to focus in on sex-selected abortion. I think this would be an interesting thing for us to discuss in class. As I continue to think about it, I go back and forth on the issue. I personally believe in a woman's right to choose whether or not she "keeps" her baby. I believe that the well-being of a child needs to be considered before it comes into the world. I would like to clarify that I am not saying this in terms of disease or anything of the such, but in terms of their future. If their family cannot provide for them, if the child will be abused and live a miserable life, is it really better for that child or for the family that it was born? I guess that is a controversial statement. To further the controversy, lets follow in Duflo's footsteps and talk about sex-selective abortion. It is wild to me to think that it would even be legal to advertise abortions like the billboard in Mumbai: "Better pay Rs 500 now than Rs 50,000 later." Are people aborting girls because they want to save this money? Or could some of the reasoning be that they know their daughters will not have a fulfilled life, as they will have to make sacrifices as a woman, many of which are listed in this paper? Are they saving their future child from hardships that could even lead them to a very early and miserable death, like the girls in the poor neighborhoods of New Delhi that are twice as likely as boys to die of diarrhea?

So that got me curious into the reasoning behind sex selective abortions, as did the statement that "sex selection does not appear to disappear even in the United States." It made me feel slightly ignorant to assume that sex selective pregnancy termination would be something that only occurred in places like China where boys are worshipped. Lo and behold, its everywhere. On the website for the Center for Reproductive Rights, based out of New York, they have a document titled "Statement of Policies and Principles on Discrimination Against Women and Sex-Selective Abortion Bans". Do we think that it is a "reproductive right" to be able to have sex selective abortions? On one hand, if a woman is allowed to control her body, shouldn't she be allowed to control what gender she will be carrying around for 9 months? Because the Center for Reproductive Rights has the mission to further women's equal status in society, I would have assumed that they would be against sex-selective abortions. However, the Center is against banning sex-selective abortions because of four conditions. 1) banning sex-selective abortions does not help the issue of making women more equal in society 2) banning legal sex-selective abortions won't prevent them from happening, and will put women's health at a greater risk if they cannot be performed in a safe medical environment 3) banning sex-selective abortions undermines the goal of the organization: women's autonomy 4) according to the Center, banning sex-selective abortions furthers the "hidden" agenda by anti-choice groups by limiting access to abortions.

I would really be interested to see if peers & Professor Casey have opinions on sex-selective abortion and the morality/immorality of banning it.

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