How did I spend Valentine’s Day? At a lecture on feminist development economics. That’s right.


I went to an interesting lecture today on the role of feminism in improving developmental economics. The arguments were very simple. First of all, the business case for introducing feminism into development economics is incredibly strong, as the World Bank emphasise.

We’ve seen it in the west. The long post-war boom was fed by a decline in discrimination and more women entering the labour force. Something analogous in the developing world will increase economic growth. There are very few things which we can say for certain do, but that is one of them.

To get the most bang for your buck out of this increase in economic participation you have to make sure that women have access to the same inputs as men. This means anything, from something basic like title deeds to their land to simple things like equal access to fertiliser or irrigation.

Equalising access would increase the value of agricultural output about 4% (not sure if that is 4 percent of 4 percentage points), which would feed around 100 million people. Dollars lying on the sidewalk, as they say.

That ties into making sure  women are empowered. That’s nothing airy fairy, it means making sure women have an appropriate say in investment decisions and can act safely and confidently in the public sphere. It means they can state their own case at home and in public to protect their access to these economic inputs.

It’s interesting to know that institutions, which regular readers know I’m obsessed by, play a really tangible role in the shape of inequality in different places. In Ecuador, because of its colonial legacy, inheritance rights mean that land and property is split  fairly evenly between the sexes. This is in contrast to Ghana and Karnataka where women own significantly less property.

The lecture was very focused on agriculture and discussion of urbanisation, population ageing and so on was not on the agenda. That was a pity, but I understand the time constraints and there was a lot of meat in just the agricultural side of it.

If I had a criticism it echoes what I wrote yesterday. If you create institutions which create incentives to pursue economic expansion, you are also likely to create institutions that incentivise men to expropriation their partner’s land and to force them into patterns of unpaid labour. With the best of intentions but limited political capital there’s every reason to think that development will never be gender neutral.

Oh and this is nice. A few years ago, people were surveyed and asked whether they had felt love the previous day. This was later plotted against GDP by Justin Wolfers. It produced this lovely, and statistically insignificant, heart. Happy Valentine’s Day everyone.