Feminist Economics: Out of Africa

Paper Session

Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017 5:30 PM – 7:15 PM

Swissotel Chicago, Monte Rosa
Hosted By: International Association for Feminist Economics
  • Chair: Alicia Giron, National Autonomous University of Mexico

Gender and Firm Performance in Middle Eastern and African Economies

Mina Baliamoune-Lutz
University of North Florida
Stefan Lutz
University of East London


Empirical evidence suggests that lack of access to financing is a major constraint to performance by female-owned firms in most countries. Firm performance, financing structure, and constraints have been well explored for firms in developed economies but this is not the case for firms in developing economies, especially in Africa and the Middle-East. Largely due to lack of data availability, existing literature on African firms has presented some survey-based evidence on firm performance and financing structures while detailed financial evidence is lacking. This paper aims at filling this research gap. We identify female-owned firms and examine the impact of ownership structure on financing and firm performance. We use cross-sectional financial data covering 25,500 companies in the Middle East and Africa for the years 2006 to 2014. Our results reveal a clear, but perhaps surprising, gender-specific pattern.

Child Brides, Bargaining Power, and Reform of Ethiopia's Family Law

Tamara McGavock
Grinnell College


This paper seeks to identify the causal relationship between a woman's age of marriage and the wellbeing of women.  I leverage a novel source of identification, the staggered rollout of a legal reform in Ethiopia that raised the minimum age of marriage for girls, to estimate the effect of delaying marriage on women's outcomes. Using a difference-in-differences strategy, I establish that the reform increased the average age of marriage for women by one year and also shifted the distribution of marriage ages up. Using the reform as an instrument, I find that a one year delay in marriage increases educational attainment for women by one year and literacy by 18 percentage points, a result consistent with the only previous causal finding. I expand on that evidence to consider other outcomes for women and find mixed results. In particular, I find that women who marry later have more accurate knowledge of when children are conceived during the menstrual cycle and are more likely to manage household finances jointly with their husbands. On the other hand, they are no less likely to think that domestic violence from their husbands is justified, which is a widespread belief among Ethiopian women. My estimates provide the first empirical evaluation of age of consent laws. The results suggest that policies and activist groups aiming to end child marriage will attain restricted improvements in women's lives unless other action is simultaneously pursued.

Persistent Norms and Tipping Points: Female Genital Cutting in Burkina Faso

Lindsey K. Novak
University of Minnesota


Female genital cutting (FGC) is prevalent across many parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. This practice can have profound negative effects on women’s physical and psychological well-being. Even with these negative effects, FGC is often perpetuated for generations because the cost of deviating from the social norm can be high. The prevailing theory in the study of FGC is that it is a social coordination norm—that is, households will abandon FGC if and only if a sufficient proportion of households within the community agree to abandon the practice. Under this theory, if a sufficient number of community members agree to abandon the practice, a tipping point is reached and the rate of FGC should fall to zero. Recent empirical evidence rejects that theory. I draw on Schelling’s 1978 model of critical mass to contribute to this important debate and generate a new data-supported theory that has important implications for the types of policies that should be introduced. Using a dataset of more than 7,500 women born between 1949 and 1995 in Burkina Faso, I show that households within a community have heterogeneous preferences for FGC such that each household contained therein may require a different proportion of community members to abandon
FGC before they decide to also reject the practice. I show that the presence of this heterogeneity makes the existence of a tipping point uncertain and that stable interior equilibria in FGC rates are possible. My findings suggest that individuals and households are in fact able to deviate from an entrenched, gender-biased social norm and that policies aimed at reducing the prevalence of FGC should target changing individual and household, rather than village-level, preferences.
Olgaoke Akintola
University of KwaZulu-Natal
JEL Classifications
  • B5 - Current Heterodox Approaches
  • Z1 - Cultural Economics; Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology