Economic Woman

Econometrics, gender, equity and more.

Posts Tagged ‘development

The humble inventor

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As you might have gathered already, I think bloggers restrict ourselves unnecessarily by only linking to recent material. Most good sites and articles aren’t obsolete within a couple weeks.

Jason Kottke pointed me towards this NYT Magazine article from 2003, about Amy Smith, an inventor who teaches at MIT and develops cheap, low-tech solutions for the developing world.

Success in the kind of design that Smith pursues requires humility, because your masterpiece may end up looking like a bunch of rocks or a pile of sand. […] Women have the advantage here, unlike other branches of engineering. ”I know how to be self-deprecating,” Smith says. ”The traditional male engineer is not taught that way.”

I’m not sure this is true – I don’t think men lack humility as a rule, or at least I don’t see how a woman educated along with them would develop fundamentally different values. I’m also not sure about the implication that women are disadvantaged in other branches of engineering. They’re not present in large numbers, but that’s not necessarily because of a lack of ability. In any case, I enjoyed the article. It’s nice reading about women in unconventional fields, and about the roundabout ways that people find the jobs they love.

Written by Allison

19 May 2008 at 12:12 pm

The Nike Foundation on Women in Development

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I’ve been enjoying Economist’s View’s dispatches from the Milken Institute Global Conference. (An aside: Someone should start a website that aggregates blogged accounts of conferences around the world. I don’t have the time or resources to attend nearly as many meetings as I’d like to, so I appreciate reading about them.)

Here’s a bit on a session with Ricardo Hausmann, Myron Scholes, and Maria Eitel, called “Harnessing Growth to Break Poverty’s Grip on the Developing World.” Eitel is the president of the Nike foundation, and she made an argument for more aid to women.

Did you know that only 5 cents on every dollar of development aid is “devoted to improving the economic prospects for women”? The session also touched on the difficulty of investing in women who already provide essential care and insurance.

Even though there are large long-term benefits to helping women, it is in nobody’s short-term interest to take women out of their traditional role in the family and community where they provide water, firewood, and food for the family, care for sick family members, are expected to provide insurance for the family by dropping out of school if the family needs help, and so on.

Click over to the original post for a little more on solutions.

Written by Allison

30 April 2008 at 12:08 pm

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Paying for it

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An experimental World Bank-backed program in southern Tanzania will pay people to avoid unsafe sex. Hat tip to Marginal Revolution. I’ll repeat a few things said by commenters, but since some of it was said in horrifying context (“in a country like Africa”) I think it’s worth discussing at length.

The assumption is that the problem in Africa is that too many people choose to have unsafe sex. I’m sceptical. We already know that women all over the world, perhaps especially in rural Tanzania, aren’t always empowered to make decisions about sex and protection, especially within marriage. But for a few minutes, let’s go with this premise. How can we convince people to choose safer sex?

Is raising the monetary cost of unsafe sex the answer? Surely HIV/AIDS is already expensive. As one MR commenter points out, this paper suggests that people who already face high mortality might take the comparatively distant possibility of AIDS infection less seriously. Even if this is true, will $45 fundamentally change the equation?

Even if it appears to, we’ll have a lot of conceivable explanations to fight over.
Maybe the value of a program like this is purely cultural. If your partner is going to argue with you over condom use, “I’m getting paid a lot of money to use this” might be just the excuse you need. Unless your partner is willing to pay more – now there’s a whole other issue.

Even more likely, maybe the pilot will work because it includes education. I’ve argued in the past that meaningful sex ed is a human right, and we already know that it works. I’m all for throwing money at this problem, but imagine how many more people could be involved in projects like these if they focused on one-on-one education instead of income support? There’s a control group that won’t get paid, so that will help us answer these questions. (You could argue that the money is just a way of getting people to go to class, but a 25 per cent raise is probably more than is required for that.)

Let’s get back to the Oster paper linked above. Here’s the end of the abstract:

…the magnitude of behavioral response in Africa is of a similar order of magnitude to that among gay men in the United States, once differences in income and life expectancy are taken into account.

If safer sex is a function of income, won’t paying people period – for anything, without conditions – reduce their risky behaviour? Why bother paying for the monitoring? Why don’t we just write the whole continent a cheque?

Because that’s not how you raise income, in the long run. That’s a cheap solution. It’s cheaper than maintaining a meaningful foreign aid budget. It’s cheaper than working to empower women. It’s cheaper than promoting real economic development. But we’re talking about an epidemic, tragedy on an unimaginable scale – the destruction of a continent, perhaps. Stephen Lewis has been arguing for a while now that we know how to fix this problem, but we’ve kept casting around for cheaper solutions. If anyone on earth knows that they’re talking about, it’s him. I can’t help but wonder if it’s time to stop messing around with pilot projects.

Written by Allison

29 April 2008 at 1:45 am