On November 12, 2021, at 12:00 pm, the Center for International Development (CID) held a virtual Speaker Series featuring Seema Jayachandran, Economist and Professor of Economics at Northwestern University. She presented the effects of social networks in empowering women in developing countries. 

Female labor force participation tends to follow a U-shape with economic development. Women would extensively participate in farm production in the early stage of economic development where countries primarily rely on agriculture. As countries industrialize, women’s labor participation declines due to the combination of productivity growth and the affordability of playing to the social stigma attached to women working. Then, participation would increase again as countries shift toward the service industry; higher education and increased wage for less physically intensive jobs reduce stigma and encourage more women to join the workforce. 

While the curve explains the general pattern across countries, Jayachandran points to high variability in employment rates across the countries that cannot be explained by income level alone. One explanation is the geographic concentration of low female employment in countries where social norms act as barriers to women’s participation in the workforce. 

Jayachandran conducts randomized control trials (RCTs) in India to examine how interventions may counteract norms. One research studied the effect of peer-network on women’s likelihood of taking out loans. The research compared a treatment group where women were allowed to bring a friend to a business training offered by a microfinance organization to two control groups: 1) those who attended alone or 2) those who did not attend the training. The result showed a significant increase in loan applications and a stronger self-identification as businesswomen among the treatment groups. Another research looked at the effects of classroom discussion on gender equality among middle and high school students in India. Initially, two-thirds of boys and half of girls held regressive attitudes towards gender. The finding shows that the educational intervention led to 16% of regressive attitudes converting to support equality, and the effect size remained at a similar level when re-assessed two years later. Her research exemplifies the types of policy interventions that can be used to counteract negative social norms and promote gender equality in developing countries. 

The Center for International Development Speaker Series continues on December 3rd at 12:00 pm featuring Sharmi Surianarain, the Chief Impact Officer of Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator. Harambee is a not-for-profit social enterprise building African solutions for the global challenge of youth unemployment in South Africa. Register here to attend.


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