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Does Empowering Women in Politics Boost Human Capital Formation? An Empirical Analysis, 1960-2018

Abstract

Many believe that the political empowerment of women is not just an objective of development but that it might be instrumentally valuable for boosting development, particularly by affecting endogenous sources of growth based in human capital. We examine the question of whether or not, and to what extent, the political empowerment of women matters for the equality of access to human capital. Human capital gains are measured both as access, indicating a pro-poor development priority, as well as an objective measure of human capital gains measured as the under-5 mortality rate. Our results show robustly and consistently that political empowerment of women matter positively for human capital formation through equality of access to health and education. These results are statistically and substantively significant, and they are greater than those of formal democracy. The direct effect of female empowerment on the under-5 mortality rate is weaker, but the conditional effects of empowerment and strict autocracy and empowerment and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region on the under-five mortality rate are positive and statistically highly significant. These conditional effects suggest strongly that women´s political empowerment has added value over just broad empowerment indicated by electoral democracy, and it powerfully conditions the known adverse effects of repressive government and MENA region. The basic results are extremely robust, and the effect size is consistent across a number of estimating methods, sample sizes, and several alternative models.
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Does Empowering Women in Politics Boost
Human Capital Formation? An Empirical
Analysis, 1960-2018
Norunn Hornset
Dept. of Sociology and Political Science
Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)
Trondheim, Norway
&
Indra de Soysa
Dept. of Sociology and Political Science
Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)
Trondheim, Norway
(corresponding author)
Word Count = 8334 (all inclusive)
2
Abstract
Many believe that the political empowerment of women is not just an objective of development
but that it might be instrumentally valuable for boosting development, particularly by affecting
endogenous sources of growth based in human capital. We examine the question of whether or
not, and to what extent, the political empowerment of women matters for the equality of access
to human capital. Human capital gains are measured both as access, indicating a pro-poor
development priority, as well as an objective measure of human capital gains measured as the
under-5 mortality rate. Our results show robustly and consistently that political empowerment
of women matter positively for human capital formation through equality of access to health
and education. These results are statistically and substantively significant, and they are greater
than those of formal democracy. The direct effect of female empowerment on the under-5
mortality rate is weaker, but the conditional effects of empowerment and strict autocracy and
empowerment and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region on the under-five
mortality rate are positive and statistically highly significant. These conditional effects suggest
strongly that women´s political empowerment has added value over just broad empowerment
indicated by electoral democracy, and it powerfully conditions the known adverse effects of
repressive government and MENA region. The basic results are extremely robust, and the effect
size is consistent across a number of estimating methods, sample sizes, and several alternative
models.
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I am dreaming to see my children as doctors and engineers. That is my
desire.
A woman who recently moved out of poverty. Chennampalle, Andhra
Pradesh, India. Cited in Deepa Narayan (2009) ed. Moving Out of Poverty: The
Promise of Empowerment and Democracy in India, p.32.
1. Introduction
The 2019 Nobel laureate in economics, Esther Duflo, a development economists with an
illustrious career in research conducted among the poor, argues that female empowerment can
be a powerful force for development (Duflo 2012). Several decades earlier, another Nobel
laureate, Amartya Sen, argued that development is driven by the institutional environment that
allows “freedoms” to flourish, where people have “agency” to follow their desire for doing
well, also termed the “capability” approach to development (Sen 1999). Sen highlights how
development is held back due to the lack of agency among the poor, especially women, stunting
development. Over the last several decades, scholars have attacked the question of gender and
development from a variety of angles (Klasen 2017, King and Mason 2001). First, many try to
explain why women´s positions in society remain subordinate to men, and how they might
advance in order to bring about greater social justice (Htun and Weldon 2018). Others have
highlighted the ways in which women disproportionately bear the burdens of
underdevelopment and suffer the consequences of development failure, including the burden of
disease and violence (Momsen 1991, Htun and Jensenius 2020). Indeed, it is now taken as a
truism that female empowerment is not just intrinsically valuable but that it promotes
development, particularly by redirecting the allocation of resources towards enhanced
capabilities that drive endogenous economic and political change. This paper will empirically
examine how female empowerment affects the development of human capital, which is both an
objective of successful development (enhanced capability) and a vital input to sustainable
economic growth (human capital).
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Using novel data on the political empowerment of women, assessed as the freedoms and
civil liberties available to women and the extent to which women participate in civil society, as
well as data on the equality of access of the poor to health and education and the objective
measure of under-five mortality rates, we find extremely robust evidence to suggest that gender
empowerment increases human capital formation. These effects are independent of several
relevant controls, including formal electoral democracy where people participate freely in
electing their governments. Not only are these effects statistically significant, but they are
substantively quite large and persistent across a number of estimating techniques, sample sizes,
and alternative models. The rest of the paper discusses theory, previous empirical findings, our
data and methods, the results, and finally conclude with a discussion of our main findings.
2. Theory
Human capital formation in developing countries is thought to be critical for sustainable
economic growth and development (Barro 2001, Galor and Weil 1996). Such factors as health
and education are not simply intrinsically valuable for individuals, but they collectively boost
returns to investment because of productivity increases. Human capital determines
technological change and innovation through productivity enhancement (Romer 1993). If
neoclassical growth theory suggested that poor nations will catch up with the rich through the
process of convergence, where poor countries grow faster than the rich because of diminishing
returns to capital, new growth theory suggests that there are increasing returns to ideas and
innovations in the rich world, and that convergence is conditional on initial levels of human
capital. Indeed, rather than convergence, what we have seen is divergence, where the gaps
between the rich and poor world have increased, and there are no signs that the rich world slows
down (Pritchett 1997). As some other argue, however, what matters for development are the
institutions that underlie the incentives that make people invest in human capital, which in turn
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drives the innovation and technical progress required for sustained economic development
(Acemoglu and Robinson 2012). If old growth theory posited that the rich slow down because
of “diminishing returns” to physical capital, new growth theory suggests that “increasing
returns” to human capital explains technological change and continued growth. What then
explains such differential gains in human capital across the world? Why do some societies
prioritize human development and others don’t?
As Acemoglu and Robinson (2012) argue, inclusive political institutions are likely to
encourage inclusive social and economic institutions, so that broad-based development can
occur, creating a virtuous circle of development and freedom. Conversely, extractive political
and social institutions that benefit some over others can persist in vicious circles of poverty and
exploitation. Institutional change towards greater inclusivity, however, is unlikely to occur
where relative power between a status quo (wealthy elites, men, militaries etc.) are skewed in
the direction of those with much to lose, if indeed institutional and technological change upsets
the balance of power. While Acemoglu and Robinson (2012) have little to say about inclusive
institutions relative to gender, or directly address the question of human capital growth, the
general thrust of their argumentation is that greater political openness can drive change towards
inclusivity. Institutions, however, are both formal and informal, where gender-based
discrimination potentially excludes roughly half of any given society. Even in formal
democracies, such as India, Pakistan, and many other poor democracies, political and social
processes that are exploitative can persist at subnational levels on a de facto and de jure basis,
where women´s empowerment is highly circumscribed by formal laws and informal barriers.
However, when it comes to human capital gains for the poor, there is evidence to suggest that
democratic freedoms alone might not matter (Ross 2006). Dictators, who are generally free
from having to please broad interests, may have great incentives to provide human capital to
ensure economic growth and productivity required to satisfy key supporters and secure political
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survival (Bueno de Mesquita and Smith 2011). While democracy may empower broadly, for
example, by encouraging people´s participation in electing their governments, removing
exclusionary restraints on the political activity of societal groups, such as ethnic and religious
minorities etc., why there are no clear human capital gains for the poor might suggest that one
examine more carefully the specific instance of gender empowerment.
We have already mentioned that empowering females for increasing the pace of
development is almost a truism in development circles. Achieving gender parity in political and
economic rights is one of the 17 sustainable development goals of the United Nations.
1
While
many states and global agencies pay lip service to gender equality, currently only 27% of
managerial positions globally are occupied by women, and as many as 104 countries have laws
that actively prevent women from taking part in certain occupations. Consider also that roughly
two thirds of the world´s illiterate population is female (World Bank 2018). By improving the
lot of women, thus, not only is one actually engaged in real development by addressing
disparities between people, but one might simultaneously add value to development by
accelerating other processes, such as human capital development. As the World Bank puts it,
addressing the gender gap in development is “smart economics” (World Bank 2010).
Empowerment of women differ from empowerment of other groups of people because women
are not just one group among different small, disempowered groups in society, such as ethnic
and religious groups, but they are a cross-cutting category of single individuals that overlap
these other smaller groupings (Malhotra, Schuler, and Boender 2002). Paying attention to
gender, thus, might be one way to address exclusionary processes across a variety of social
divisions, broadly empowering society so that the distribution of public goods by governments
reflect the distribution of power in society. The emancipation of women from the confines of
1
See https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals.html (last accessed 17
February, 2020).
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social institutions that constrict their agency is, thus, a potentially powerful force for
development through private means associated with household decisions and through its
impacts on public institutions.
What then are the different bases of the instrumental value of female empowerment?
Women´s participation on an equal basis with men in society could be transformative on many
levels. First, gender parity in schooling can pave the way for women entering the workforce
and engaging in economic life as entrepreneurs and innovators (Chattopadhyay and Duflo 2004,
De Vita, Mari, and Pogessi 2014). More economic activity generates higher growth. The real
value addition from women, however, can come with how women view the world and their
roles in it. Feminists have long argued that women are likely to make better decisions at the
level of the household (Sundström et al. 2017, Seguino 2000). Unlike values that encourage
masculinity, territoriality and dominance, women might be more inclined to sharing, caring,
and projecting peaceful attitudes towards others, especially the weak and needy, thereby,
demanding greater public goods and services of political leaders (Chattopadhyay and Duflo
2004). Studies show that women prioritize public goods such as clean water and children’s
health, leading to better child survival rates and higher school attainment scores . When women
are empowered through access to education, household decisions will be based on knowledge,
affecting how resources in the family are invested (Klasen 2017). Education and goods that
benefit health tend to be prioritized if women made household decisions. When women enter
the workforce, fertility rates go down because of better family planning and delayed marriage,
leading to higher human capital accumulation per child (Becker and Barro 1988). The same
effect is seen when women get political power. These effects will in turn lead to lower mortality
rates, higher investment in health, increased school enrollment and attainment. Such factors can
add up to getting people out of poverty and generating higher investment in human capital
(Duflo 2012, Narayan 2009). Thus far, we have intimated that empowering women increases
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their capabilities, which would result in higher human capital accumulation relative to
institutional change towards greater political inclusivity. Next, we take a closer look at what
female empowerment means and how exactly it is measured.
2.1 Female empowerment
The definition of female empowerment is not entirely unproblematic (Sundström et al. 2017,
Klasen 2017, Kabeer 1999). One reason for confusion is the ways in which different
terminologies are used in different contexts (Malhotra, Schuler & Boender, 2002, p.4). For
example, gender inequality, gender gaps, and empowerment are used interchangeably.
Inequality between men and women might be based on wages or legal rights, while others focus
on the gaps in access to schooling etc., often comparing the situation of women to men within
a society. We follow Sundström et al. (2017), the originators of the Varieties of Democracy´s
(VDEM) indicator on female empowerment. According to them, empowerment is a process of
increasing capacity for women, that gives women greater choice, agency and participation in
societal decision-making, seen in terms of universal standards rather than just in relative terms
to the men in any given society. Agency is said to be the closest way of capturing what a
majority of scholars believe is the essence of empowerment. By agency they mean the ability
to create strategic choices and have control over resources and decisions that will have an
important effect on life. Agency also implies that an agent should have the possibility to create
goals and act upon those goals. In relation to agency, it is also important that women themselves
are significant actors in the process of change. This implies that women have to be part of the
change from being unempowered to being empowerment (Sundstrom, et al., 2017, p. 6-7). The
element of choice is related to the access to power because power allows the capacity and
potential to make choices. To be unempowered implies that a person is denied a choice.
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Empowerment is then the power one has to autonomously make choices that are in one´s
interest to make (Kabeer, 1999, p. 437). Some choices are of greater importance than others.
Example of such choices are the ability to decide between livelihoods, family size, and deciding
autonomously whom one should marry, including the refusal to do so. The ability to make
important life choices will affect a woman in different ways, for example in terms of freedom
of movement, access to property and justice. Women should be able to make important and
meaningful decisions on critical areas that affect their lives (Sundstrom, 2017, p. 4-6). The
element of participation is the third criteria for women to be empowered and have the ability to
participate meaningfully in societal decision-making. This includes political participation.
Sundstrom et al. (2017, p. 7-8) describe how it is important that women are not just formally
politically equal, but that they also a part of the decision-making processes within society. They
explain that this is necessary for women´s interests to be represented and taken into account
when political decisions are made. Empowerment is a process that has to operate from below,
and this change will happen over time. The process will lead to change and improvement in
indicators of gender equality. The importance of female participation in this process is also
emphasized. This highlights the time aspect as an important factor when studying
empowerment (Sundstrom et al. 2017, p. 8). We feel, thus, that the VDEM data allow us better
to understand the importance of gender empowerment over time on detectable outcomes, such
as human capital formation over time.
2.2 Human development
Human capital formation, or human development, is generally understood to be both an
objective for development and an input to development (Ranis, Stewart, and Ramirez 2000).
Endogenous growth theory discussed above views human capital as an input to sustained
growth through technological change and productivity enhancement. The capabilities approach
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to development views human capital primarily as an objective of development, but it also views
capabilities as opening up increased opportunities and frontiers of development (Ranis and
Stewart 2006). Human capital development is indeed a continuous investment in the capabilities
of individuals and societies for taking advantages of the technological frontiers that drive
economic growth and development. Like empowerment, human capital formation is the process
of increasing human capacities and enlarging people’s choices (Gerring, Thacker, and Alfaro
2012). Human capital increases the quality of life, which depends on various physical and social
conditions often related to different welfare functions performed by a state, such as the
provision of health care services and education broadly (Sen 1999). The intertwined nature of
gender empowerment and the empowerment of society through political freedoms and the
progress of human development present complications for any empirical analysis. However,
the contested nature of empirical findings linking democracy to human capital growth, usually
measured in terms of child mortality rates, allow us to compare the effects of formal democracy
relative to female empowerment on human capital formation.
One might argue that there is nothing inherently valuable about female empowerment,
but that broad societal empowerment may matter more. Those who argue that inclusive political
institutions lead to inclusive economic institutions suggest that human capital, physical capital
and technological development work as important forces to increase development through
technological change (Acemoglu, Johnson, and Robinson 2001). The open nature of institutions
can encourage individuals to invest time and effort in productive activity because the payoffs
to their efforts are not threatened and harmed by predatory processes. Inclusive economic
institutions, thus, form the complex incentive structure to generate investment in human and
physical capital, and the rational and productive organization of markets (Acemoglu and
Robinson 2006). The influence of economic institutions is closely linked to political
institutions. Economic institutions are a result of collective choice, and different groups will
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have conflicting interests. How political power is distributed is decided by political institutions.
Inclusive political institutions are here defined as centralized states that are pluralistic, where
state are uncaptured by particularistic interests and powerful individuals (Acemoglu and
Robinson 2012). While democratic institutions determine the formal nature of political
participation of individuals and groups in society, social institutions, what some might even call
informal institutions, matter greatly in terms of various political and economic outcomes
(Klasen 2017, Jütting et al. 2007). Indeed, despite a great deal of theorizing about why
democracies are better at providing public goods relative to autocracies, the empirical evidence
for the link between democracy and economic development and democracy and the provision
of public goods is highly mixed (Bueno de Mesquita and Smith 2011, Ross 2006, Gerring,
Thacker, and Alfaro 2012). We examine, thus, the extent to which gender rights, which are
codetermined by formal and informal institutions, predict higher human capital gains relative
to formal electoral democracy. Can it be that the indeterminate results on democracy and human
capital are explained by the nature of social institutions within democracies? We test the
following hypotheses to address these broad concerns.
H1. Gender empowerment increases access to health and education to a greater extent
than formal democracy
H2. Autocracies with higher gender empowerment increases human capital more than
do formal democracies
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3. Method
3.1 Data
We use a cross-sectional, time-series (TSCS) dataset that employs essentially 3 dependent
variables measuring human capital (discussed below) and a measure of gender empowerment
(see below) taken from the VDEM dataset.
2
The data are annual and cover the time period
1960-2018 (58 years). The dataset is unbalanced in that some countries have fewer data points
over time than others. TSCS data typically have complicated correlation patterns across and
within units that can affect the estimation of standard errors (Beck and Katz 1995). We employ
the Wooldridge test to check for autocorrelation, and the null hypothesis of “no autocorrelation”
could not be rejected. Beck and Katz (1995) suggest that a lagged dependent variable (LDV)
be employed to account for serial correlation. However, a LDV can soak up so much of the
variance related to the main independent variable of interest, leading to the rejection of a
meaningful relationship unnecessarily (Achen 2000). Moreover, the PCSE method does not
allow one to test directly for unit-level heterogeneity, which could have important implication
for the results (Wilson and Butler 2007). Thus, following many others, we employ OLS with
Newey-West standard errors that are robust to heteroscedasticity and first-order serial
correlation (Newey and West 1987, Gerring, Thacker, and Alfaro 2012). Additionally, we
employ the Driscoll-Kraay standard errors adjusted for spatial dependence because the
likelihood that gender rights and human capital cluster in space is very high because factors
that affect these phenomena disperse across borders. Not accounting for spatial dependence,
thus, could violate assumption of independence (Hoechle 2007, Driscoll and Kraay 1998,
Sundström et al. 2017). We use fixed effects analyses to mitigate specification problems,
entering year and country fixed effects to avoid bias from trending data and omitted variables.
We lag each of our independent variables by one year to avoid simultaneity.
2
The latest VDEM data can be obtained here: https://www.v-dem.net (last accessed 20 February, 2020).
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3.2.1 Dependent variables
Most studies addressing human capital focus on education and health as typical markers of
human capital development (Barro 1991). We are interested in measuring human capital as an
attribute that people are in possession of as well as a priority of government. Our first two
measures for the dependent variable are access to education and health measured as “equality
of access” that measures a priority directly and an attribute indirectly. The variable for
education equality (v2peedueq) is taken from the VDEM dataset (VDEM 2019). Access to
education is a measurement of a state´s priority in terms of inclusivity of people for receiving
a public good. Education equality measures people between the ages 6 - 16 that have access to
high quality education. The question asked the expert coders is: To what extent is high quality
basic education guaranteed to all, sufficient to enable them to exercise their basic rights as
adult citizens? The data was recorded on an ordinal scale from 0 - 4 where 0 represents extreme
unequal and 4 represents equal access to good quality education and then transferred to interval
scale by the measurement model, making the variable more suitable for statistical analysis
across space and over time (Pemstein et al. 2018). Similarly, equal access to health
(v2pehealth), is also taken from the VDEM dataset. This variable measure access to health
services. The question asked is To what extent is high quality basic healthcare guaranteed to
all, sufficient to enable them to exercise their political rights as adult citizens. This variable too
is coded similarly as above and transferred from ordinal to interval scale by the measurement
model. To assess the reliability of this variable, we correlated equality access to health from
VDEM with the access to health variable from the Global Burden of Disease project, which
creates its index by looking at the incidence of over two-dozen childhood diseases (Institute for
health Metrics and Evaulation 2018). This correlation is r = 0.82, which is high.
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Access to health and education captures human capital as policy priority but not directly
as a societal attribute. Thus, we measure available human capital as attribute directly, which
also captures priority indirectly, by utilizing the level of under-five mortality within a society.
Under-five mortality can be thought of as the stock of human capital given that the prevention
of child death would be a societal priority where the human and physical resources for
preventing such dearth are available. The correlation between the under-five mortality rate
taken from the World Bank´s World Development Indicators (WDI) online database and the
access to health from the VDEM is r = -0.76, which is high and in the expected direction.
3
As
some report, the under-five mortality rate correlates extremely well with an expanded
measurement of the Human Development Index (HDI), and as Ranis and Stewart (2006:346)
suggest, “the under-five rate has advantages … since it is more precise in terms of changes over
time and less complicated to calculate.” We use all three indicators as dependent variables
because they capture the idea of human capital very well, both as access to human capital
enhancement and as changes in observed human capital stock. Figure 1 displays the average
global trend in the under-5 mortality rate graphed against equality of access to health care. As
seen there, the under-5 mortality rate has decreased along with access to health.
**********FIGURE 1 ABOUT HERE*********
3.2.2 Main independent variables
The main independent variable, women´s political empowerment (v2X_gender), is taken from
the VDEM dataset. This variable is coded on the basis of expert opinion based on the composite
of 3 indicators that essentially capture the following definition:
3
The WDI data are available at: https://databank.worldbank.org/reports.aspx?source=world-development-
indicators&preview=on#. (last accessed February 21, 2020).
15
Women’s political empowerment is defined as a process of increasing
capacity for women, leading to greater choice, agency, and participation in
societal decision-making. It is understood to incorporate three equally-
weighted dimensions: fundamental civil liberties, women’s open discussion
of political issues and participation in civil society organizations, and the
descriptive representation of women in formal political positions (VDEM
2019: 268).
The 3 indicators of women´s political empowerment are based on the following question: How
politically empowered are women? In terms of women´s access to civil liberties, women´s civil
society participation, and women´s political participation. It is important to note, thus, that
health and education access or levels are not directly considered in the empowerment measure.
In order to compare the relative effects of gender empowerment, we also estimate a measure of
“electoral democracy” or polyarchy, which assesses the extent to which people elect their own
governments in free and fair elections, where there is a competitive party system, and where
people´s choices are not coerced by violence or other means (Coppedge et al. 2011).
Additionally, we compare the effects of women´s empowerment with that of the degree of
government (political) corruption because corruption too captures aspects of formal and
informal institutions that relate to how women are empowered in society (Chattopadhyay and
Duflo 2004). The VDEM´s corruption index essentially measured the degree to which the
executive, judicial, legislative and public sector branches of government are plagued by corrupt
practices. As figure 2 suggests, both electoral democracy and the political empowerment of
women have progressed pretty much in tandem.
**********FIGURE 2 ABOUT HERE**********
3.2.3 Control variables
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Even though we used fixed effects analyses in all tests to avoid specification issues, we control
for four important potentially confounding factors, avoiding the problem of overfitting our
models (Achen 2005). Clearly, the effect of women´s political empowerment on human capital
formation are both affected by the level of per capita income, which we measure as GDP per
capita in constant 2010$ taken from the WDI dataset. We also enter a term for population size
because demographic factors can matter to how access to health and education progresses due
to economies of scale and other factors. We take total population from the WDI. Additionally,
both human capital and gender empowerment are affected by ongoing violent armed conflict
and the history of peace in a country. We use the Uppsala Conflict Data Project´s civil war data
defined as an armed conflict between a state and rebel organization (allowing also for
international actors to be involved), where at least 25 battle-related deaths have occurred in a
single year (Gleditsch et al. 2002). The descriptive statistics of all the variables used are in the
appendix.
4. Results
The results are arrayed in the following manner. First, we test the effects of women´s political
empowerment on the equality of access to quality education. Second, we use the same models
to test equal access to health, and finally, we test the objective outcome measured as under-five
mortality. Table 1 provides the results of the basic tests of empowerment on access to education.
**********TABLE 1 ABOUT HERE**********
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As seen in column 1 of Table 1, the effect of women´s empowerment is positive and significant
on equality of access to education, a result independent of all the controls in the model.
Interestingly, electoral democracy, our proxy for broad societal empowerment, has a negative
effect, but one that is not statistically different from zero. Substantively, a standard deviation
increase in women´s empowerment increases the access to education by 30% of a standard
deviation of access to education.
4
These effects are independent of both time and country fixed
effects. Income per capita, too, is positive and significantly related to greater access to
education. Substantively, a standard deviation increase in income per capita increases access to
education by only 23% of a standard deviation of access to education, almost percentage 10
points lower than a similar increase in empowerment. These results, nevertheless, support those
who argue that economic growth is important for human capital gains and increased welfare
(Jones and Klenow 2016). Neither of the two conflict variables predict equality of access to
education. However, gender empowerment clearly seems to matter, even over political
democracy.
In column 2, we estimate the same model as in column 1, but use the Driscoll-Kraay
standard errors adjusted for spatial dependence, estimating fixed effects. The Hausman test
suggests fixed effects as superior to the random effects model. In this model, we don’t allow
the intercept to vary randomly by units. Regardless, the results remain absolutely the same. In
column 3 and 4, we enter corruption independently in the model, given that the effect of gender
empowerment might indeed be related to cleaner, more inclusive institutions that are additional
to formal democracy. As seen there, in both estimating techniques, the effect of women´s
empowerment have positive and highly significant effects. Interestingly, when corruption is
entered in the models, the effect of formal, electoral democracy turns negative and statistically
4
The substantive impacts are calculated as the standardized coefficients, where we multiply the coefficient of x
by a standard deviation of x and then divide the product by a standard deviation of y, expressed as a percentage.
If we use the within variation, rather than the overall variation, the effect almost doubles; i.e. a standard
deviation increase in empowerment increases y by 53% of the within standard deviation of y.
18
highly significant. When good institutions are estimated, thus, democracy reduces equality of
access to education, perhaps signifying certain forms of neo-patrimonial, clientelist features of
democracy that excludes on the basis of electoral dynamics. As expected, corruption is negative
for equal access to education. Interestingly, the substantive impact of corruption is almost the
same as the substantive impact of empowerment.
In Table 2, we turn to equality of access to health. As seen in Table 2, column 1,
**********TABLE 2 ABOUT HERE**********
The effect of women´s empowerment increases equal access to health, a result that is
statistically highly significant. Again, electoral democracy is negative but statistically not
different from zero, as it was before with access to education. Per capita income levels and
longer periods of civil peace increase access to health. Substantively, a standard deviation
increase in women´s political empowerment increases access to health by 29% of a standard
deviation of access to health, which is slightly greater than the effect of a standard deviation
increase in income. In columns 3 and 4, the results essentially replicate the results discussed
above with access to education. Corruption reduces access to health. Accounting for corruption
turn the effect of electoral democracy to be negative and statistically highly significant. Again,
gender empowerment trumps the effects of formal democracy when predicting higher human
capital measured as a policy priority indicated by equal access to health care for the poor.
In Table 3, we assess an indicator that is an objective measure of health and wellbeing
indicated by the rate at which children under the age of 5 survive into adulthood. Notice that
we include corruption in these models out of consideration for space, but we also estimate our
basic model on a sample of only developing countries (146 countries).
19
*********TABLE 3 ABOUT HERE***********
As seen in columns 1 and 2, when the global sample is estimated, the effect of women´s
empowerment reduces the under-5 mortality rate, independently of the level of democracy,
corruption, and income per capita level. Substantively, a standard deviation increase in
women´s empowerment reduces mortality of children by roughly 3% of a standard deviation of
the under-5 mortality rate, which works out to roughly 2.2 children saved per 1000 live births.
Recall, however, that gender empowerment might also have significant indirect substantive
effects via its effects on the control of corruption and income growth (Chattopadhyay and Duflo
2004). In columns 3 and 4, when only the developing countries are assessed, however, the direct
effect of women´s political empowerment no longer has any significant effect, possibly
suggesting that unlike access to health care, actual mortality rates could be affected more
directly by such factors as better medical infrastructure, education levels, as well as particular
types of disease vectors associated with geography and climate that are hard to observe directly.
Since access to health and reductions in the under-5 mortality rate track well over time (see
Figure 1), we remain relatively convinced that the benefits from equality of access to health
and education will indeed have actual societal human capital impacts, as many others too
suggest (Ranis, Stewart, and Ramirez 2000).
Next, we subject our basic model using access to health as the dependent variable to a
barrage of robustness tests, beginning with the estimation of several alternative models
including one-by-one a number of confounding factors. Note that we are estimating fixed
effects models, or the within-country variance, estimating the country heterogeneity by
including unit fixed effects.
5
First, we enter the per capita economic growth rate, but growth
has a negative and significant effect. Gender empowerment remains positive and statistically
5
Results now shown, but they are available from the authors on request.
20
highly significant. Next we enter a demographic variable capturing the share of the population
living in urban areas.
6
Women´s political empowerment might in fact be capturing these
urbanization dynamic associated with easier access to health. The effect of the urban share of
the population increases access to health, a result that is statistically significant at conventional
levels, but the basic result of women´s empowerment remains robust and little changed.
Secondly, we enter whether or not a country is dependent on the extraction of oil, which relates
to the idea of the “natural resource curse” where rulers that have access to oil neglect public
goods, and at the same time, oil wealth erodes women´s political rights because of the lack of
industrialization (Ross 2012, de Soysa and Gizelis 2013).
7
The effect of oil reduces access to
health, a results that is statistically significant, but again, women´s empowerment remains
positive and statistically highly significant. Fourth, we enter the share of the population that is
Muslim because the degree of women´s empowerment is likely to be affected by religious and
cultural mores attached to the Middle East and African regions, and these regions might be
disproportionately burdened by questions of low access (Norris 2011, Donno and Russett
2004).
8
The share of the population that is Muslim shows a negative effect on access to health,
but again, the effect of women´s empowerment remains solidly robust. Fifth, we enter the size
of government consumption sourced from the WDI dataset, which captures all government
spending relative to GDP. Since an activist government might be engaged in reducing
inequalities of all sorts, perhaps access to health and gender empowerment are both caused by
large government. Government consumption to GDP is indeed positively correlated with
greater access to health care, a result that supports others who argue that inequalities fall with
government consumption (Tanzi 2011), but the effect of women´s empowerment remains
independently positive and statistically significant.
6
This variable is obtained from the WDI online database.
7
We use oil rents per GDP as reported by the WDI data, which are available from 1970 onwards.
8
The Muslim share of the population is obtained from (Brown and James 2019) (Last accessed January 24,
2020).
21
Thus, women´s political empowerment proves to be robustly related to increasing access to
health, results that survive differing sample sizes, estimating techniques, and alternative
models. Next, we test the basic model for multicollinearity. On the surface, if our models
suffered from multicollinearity, we would not get a statistically significant effect on our
variable of interest because of inflated standard errors. However, testing for such effects
formally by estimating the Variance Inflation Factor (VIF) scores did not show that we had
cause for concern. None of the VIF values were even close to the problematic value of 10. Next,
we examine if our results are sensitive to influence points based on leverage, or how influential
values affect the estimate of the slope plus the size of the residuals, which would bias our
results. We estimate such undue influence by examining Cook´s D values for our basic model.
Re-estimating our model without roughly 380 datapoints out of 7689 made no difference to the
basic results reported above. Thus, our basic finding on women´s political empowerment and
access to health are unbiased by influential datapoints, and the effect size of women´s political
empowerment remains extremely stable. We ran our basic OLS models with time and country
fixed effects estimating clustered standard errors robust to heteroscedasticity and serial
correlation, but unsurprisingly, the results remain essentially the same. Finally, we lagged the
dependent variable, and interestingly, only women´s political empowerment remained
statistically significant and positive, but none of the other controls that were statistically
significant before retained their significant effects, further strengthening our confidence in the
effect of women´s political empowerment.
Since we conduct fixed effects analyses, we can be reasonably assured of our results being
relatively free of omitted variables bias. However, we cannot fully reject endogeneity stemming
from reverse causality. Increases in access to health and education might indeed be determining
the degree of women´s political empowerment. As of yet, we are unable to come up with a valid
enough instrument for women´s empowerment, which is unrelated to the dependent variable,
22
either in terms of equality of access to health and education, or the under-5 mortality rate.
However, we might be able to ascertain the power of women´s empowerment on the dependent
variable by observing how this variable conditions factors known to be related adversely with
the dependent variable. For this, we choose strict autocracy, which is known to increase under-
5 mortality because repressive dictatorships are generally unresponsive to the needs of the
population, ignoring public goods (Olson 1993, Bueno de Mesquita and Smith 2011). At a
minimum, strict dictatorships should have no effect on mortality (Ross 2006, Gerring, Thacker,
and Alfaro 2012). By interacting women´s political empowerment with strict autocracy, we will
be able to see how gender empowerment affects under-5 mortality conditional on zero
empowerment broadly in society. We measure strict autocracy by creating a dummy variable
from the VDEM´s electoral democracy measure. The dummy takes the value 1 at the value of
polyarchy below a standard deviation from the mean value, which is roughly 0.20 points on the
polyarchy scale, and 0 if above that. This variable varies with time as countries might reach
above, or fall below, this threshold over the time period of our study. There is, however, no
reason to believe that under-5 mortality increases the degree of autocracy.
Alternatively, we use the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) conditional on the
level of women´s political empowerment given the well-established negative effects of the
MENA region on women´s rights and the effects of the “resource curse” on under-5 mortality
emanating from the oil wealth associated with the MENA region as well as the majority
religion, Islam. As we saw above in our robustness tests, both oil and the share of the population
Muslim independently showed a positive effect on the under-5 mortality rate. We estimate our
basic model from Table 3, using the developing country only sample since these results were
the weakest for women´s empowerment. The basic model contains corruption and two-way
fixed effects where country heterogeneity is accounted. Clearly, the MENA region is exogenous
to the under-5 mortality rate. As seen in Table 4, column1,
23
**********TABLE 4 ABOUT HERE**********
the conditional effect between women´s political empowerment and strict autocracy on the
under-5 mortality rate is negative and statistically significant. Strict autocracy (non-democracy)
when gender empowerment is 0 is positive and statistically significant, and gender
empowerment when strict autocracy is 0 is statistically not significant (as also reported in Table
3). The fact that the interactive effect of gender empowerment and strict autocracy is negative
and statistically highly significant is telling. Even among the most autocratic regimes, when
women are more empowered, the under-5 mortality rate is reduced. This very same effect is
seen in column 2, when we examine the conditional effect between the MENA region and
women´s empowerment. While the MENA region at gender empowerment 0 is positive on the
under-5 mortality rate, the joint effect between the two on the under-5 mortality rate is negative
and highly significant. In other words, gender empowerment works among the developing
countries where the conditions for under-5 mortality are generally very poor, and these
conditions are generally exogenous to the dependent variable. The results taken together
suggest strongly and robustly that women´s political empowerment has direct and significant
effect on human capital gains, even above those of political democracy and economic
development. Thus, we can accept our hypotheses 1 and 2, which is that the political
empowerment of women matter positively for human capital formation and that political
empowerment of women matters above the effects of formal democracy, or political
empowerment broadly.
24
5. Conclusions
The connection between the empowerment of women and development is generally taken to be
a truism. Empowering women is intrinsically valuable, as are freedoms for all social groups in
general. Indeed, the empowerment of all people should be an objective of development beyond
economic growth and the accumulation of physical capital (Sen 1999, Ranis and Stewart 2006).
Such freedoms apparently are at the heart of economic growth and development and contain
instrumental value, because freedoms allow people to make choices that are superior to
governments, bureaucrats, and technocrats (Easterly 2013). Many others argue that
empowering women in particular may matter, especially for raising human capital, or the health
and education of a society that ultimately determines a society´s productivity and technological
adaptive capacities for sustainable growth and development. Empowering women, thus, is both
a development objective and an investment because empowered women make choices that are
value added, such as demanding greater services and public goods delivery from politicians and
investing in health and education (Chattopadhyay and Duflo 2004, Klasen 2017). We have
addressed this question by contrasting a novel measure of the political empowerment of women
with formal democracy and other relevant controls on dependent variables indicating both equal
access to health and education as well as an objective human capital outcome, namely the under-
5 mortality rate. Our results show robustly and consistently, that women´s political
empowerment increases the equality of access to health and education, broadening human
capital. We are also able to show that women´s political empowerment is particularly valuable
where the conditions of empowerment for human capital formation is known to be unusually
poor, such as among strict autocracies and the MENA geographic region. These results are
robust to several estimating techniques, differing sample sizes, and alternative models.
25
Appendix
Summary statistics
Variable
Obs
Std.
Dev.
Min
Max
Women´s political empowerment
7,927
0.2218
0.072
0.975
Equality of access to health
7,927
1.5048
-3.271
3.689
Equality of access to education
7,927
1.4892
-3.102
3.634
Political corruption
7,901
0.3011
0.006
0.976
Electoral democracy
7,902
0.2832
0.009
0.948
Income per capita (log)
7,927
1.5183
4.8851
11.663
GDP per capita growth rates
7,774
6.1654
-64.99
140.37
Population size (log)
7,927
1.6927
10.638
21.055
Urban population share
7,920
24.533
2.077
100
Civil war ongoing
7,714
0.3685
0
1
Years of peace since last war
7,714
16.879
0
57
Developed countries (dummy)
7,927
0.3721
0
1
Strict Autocracy (dummy)
7,902
0.4333
0
1
Under-five mortality rate (log)
7,665
1.2398
0.5306
5.9674
MENA region (dummy)
7,927
0.2977
0
1
Oil rents per GDP
6,545
9.2538
0
81.128
Muslim share of the population
7,341
34.607
0
99.736
Government consumption per GDP
6,989
6.7635
0
125.74
ODA% of central govt. Expenditure
2,002
94.691
-4.163
1452.4
26
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Figure 1. The trend in the average access to health and under-5 mortality rate, 1960-2018
Figure 2. The trends in women´s political empowerment and electoral democracy, 1960-2018
050 100 150
Under-5 mortality
-.2 0 .2 .4 .6
access to health
1960 1980 2000 2020
year
Average access to health Average under-5 mortality rate
.3 .35 .4 .45 .5 .55
Electoral democracy
.4 .5 .6 .7 .8
women´s poltical empowerment
1960 1980 2000 2020
year
Women´s political empowerment Electoral democracy (polyarchy)
30
Table 1. The effects of women´s political empowerment on access to education, 1960-2018
(1)
(2)
(3)
(4)
Dep var = equality of access to education
N-W
D-K (FE)
N-W
D-K (FE)
Women´s political empowerment
2.04***
2.04***
2.05***
2.05***
(0.14)
(0.21)
(0.15)
(0.21)
Electoral democracy
-0.09
-0.09
-0.33***
-0.33***
(0.09)
(0.06)
(0.09)
(0.06)
Government Corruption
-0.93***
-0.93***
(0.10)
(0.11)
Income per capita (log)
0.23***
0.23***
0.20***
0.20***
(0.03)
(0.04)
(0.03)
(0.04)
Population size (log)
0.16**
0.16**
0.22***
0.22***
(0.07)
(0.07)
(0.07)
(0.07)
Civil war ongoing
-0.04
-0.04
-0.04
-0.04
(0.03)
(0.03)
(0.03)
(0.03)
Years of peace since last war
0.00
0.00
0.00
0.00
(0.00)
(0.00)
(0.00)
(0.00)
Constant
-5.80***
-5.28***
-5.93***
-5.58***
(1.15)
(1.03)
(1.10)
(0.94)
Observations
7,689
7,689
7,663
7,663
Number of countries
171
171
171
171
Standard errors in parentheses
*** p<0.01, ** p<0.05, * p<0.1
Time fixed effects
YES
YES
YES
YES
Country fixed effects
YES
NO
YES
NO
31
Table 2. The effects of women´s political empowerment on access to health, 1960-2018
(1)
(2)
(3)
(4)
Dep var = equality of access to health
N-W
D-K (FE)
N-W
D-K (FE)
Women´s political empowerment
1.97***
1.97***
1.98***
1.98***
(0.13)
(0.12)
(0.13)
(0.11)
Electoral democracy
-0.00
-0.00
-0.35***
-0.35***
(0.08)
(0.09)
(0.09)
(0.08)
Government Corruption
-1.34***
-1.34***
(0.08)
(0.08)
Income per capita (log)
0.26***
0.26***
0.22***
0.22***
(0.03)
(0.03)
(0.03)
(0.04)
Population size (log)
0.03
0.03
0.13**
0.13***
(0.07)
(0.05)
(0.07)
(0.04)
Civil war ongoing
-0.03
-0.03
-0.03
-0.03
(0.02)
(0.02)
(0.02)
(0.02)
Years of peace since last civil war
0.00***
0.00***
0.00***
0.00***
(0.00)
(0.00)
(0.00)
(0.00)
Constant
-3.48***
-3.51***
-3.84***
-4.10***
(1.24)
(0.82)
(1.17)
(0.86)
Observations
7,689
7,689
7,663
7,663
Number of countries
171
171
171
171
Standard errors in parentheses
*** p<0.01, ** p<0.05, * p<0.1
Time fixed effects
YES
YES
YES
YES
Country fixed effects
YES
NO
YES
NO
32
Table 3. The effects of women´s political empowerment on under-five mortality, 1960-2018
(1)
(2)
(3)
(4)
Dep var = Under-5 mortality rate (log)
N-W
D-K (fe)
N-W
D-K (fe)
Women´s political empowerment
-0.16**
-0.16***
-0.07
-0.07
(0.07)
(0.05)
(0.07)
(0.05)
Electoral democracy
-0.05
-0.05
-0.03
-0.03
(0.04)
(0.03)
(0.04)
(0.03)
Government Corruption
0.19***
0.19***
0.19***
0.19***
(0.05)
(0.06)
(0.05)
(0.06)
Income per capita (log)
-0.25***
-0.25***
-0.24***
-0.24***
(0.02)
(0.02)
(0.02)
(0.02)
Population size (log)
0.24***
0.24***
0.18***
0.18***
(0.04)
(0.04)
(0.05)
(0.03)
Civil war ongoing
0.01
0.01
0.01
0.01
(0.01)
(0.01)
(0.01)
(0.01)
Years of peace since last war
-0.00
-0.00***
-0.00
-0.00
(0.00)
(0.00)
(0.00)
(0.00)
Constant
3.37***
0.00
4.37***
3.96***
(0.65)
(0.00)
(0.80)
(0.52)
Observations
7,424
7,424
6,147
6,147
Number of countries
169
169
146
146
Standard errors in parentheses
*** p<0.01, ** p<0.05, * p<0.1
Time fixed effects
YES
YES
YES
YES
Country fixed effects
YES
NO
YES
NO
33
Table 4. The conditional effects of women´s political empowerment with regime type and the
MENA region on under-fiver mortality, 1960-2018
(1)
(2)
Dep var = under-5 mortality rate (log)
N-W
N-W
Women´s political empowerment
0.01
0.05
(0.08)
(0.07)
non-democracy
0.08**
(0.04)
Women´s political empowerment x non-democracy
-0.19**
(0.08)
MENA geographic region
0.30***
(0.05)
Women´s political empowerment x MENA region
-1.16***
(0.13)
Electoral democracy
-0.07
-0.08*
(0.05)
(0.04)
Government corruption
0.19***
0.18***
(0.05)
(0.05)
Income per capita (log)
-0.24***
-0.23***
(0.02)
(0.02)
Population size (log)
0.18***
0.24***
(0.05)
(0.04)
Civil war ongoing
0.01
0.02
(0.01)
(0.01)
Yaers of peace since last civil war
-0.00
-0.00
(0.00)
(0.00)
Constant
4.24***
3.26***
(0.79)
(0.73)
Observations
6,147
6,147
Number of countries
146
146
Standard errors in parentheses
*** p<0.01, ** p<0.05, * p<0.1
Time fixed effects
YES
YES
Country fixed effects
YES
YES
... This is because, the likelihood that corruption and human capital cluster in space is very high because factors that affect these phenomena disperse across borders. Therefore, ignoring spatial dependence could violate assumption of independence (Hoechle, 2007;Driscoll and Kraay, 1998;Hornset and Soysa, 2020). Further, unlike cross-sectional dependence test that accounts only for dependence in the disturbance term, spatial dependence models account for dependence in the endogenous variables across region, controls for dependence between independent variable and dependent variable, and spatial heteroscedasticity (dependence in residual terms). ...
... An important additional variable to consider in the economic growth literature is human capital. This is because, human capital formation is considered as critical for sustainable economic growth and development in developing countries (Hornset and Soysa, 2020). They argue that such factors as health and education collectively boost returns to investment. ...
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Purpose-The purpose of this paper is to examine the relationship between the quality of different dimensions of institutional and economic growth in a panel of 15 member ECOWAS. Design/methodology/approach-The study adopts Driscoll and Kraay 0 s nonparametric covariance matrix estimator, and the spatial error model to account for cross-section dependency, crosscountry heterogeneity and spatial dependence inherent in empirical modelling, which has largely been ignored in previous studies. This is because, the likelihood that corruption and human capital cluster in space is very high because factors that affect these phenomena disperse across borders. Similarly, to test the threshold effect, the study adopts the more refined and more appropriate dynamic panel data which models a nonlinear asymmetric dynamics and cross-sectional heterogeneity, simultaneously, in a dynamic threshold panel data framework. Findings-The empirical evidence supports findings by previous researchers that better-quality political and economic institutions can have positive effects on economic growth. Similarly, our results support a nonlinear relationship between political institutions and economic institution, confirming the "hierarchy of institution hypothesis" in ECOWAS. Specifically, the findings show that economic institutions will only have the desired economic outcome in ECOWAS, only when political institution is above a certain threshold. Originality/value-Unlike previous studies which assume cross-sectional and spatial independence, the authors account for cross-section dependency and crosscountry heterogeneity inherent in empirical modelling. Peer review
... Human capital: To adequately model the Cobb-Douglass production function, we split capital stock into physical and human capital. This is because, human capital formation is considered as critical for sustainable economic growth and development in developing countries (Hornset and Soysa, 2020). Human capital formation in developing countries is considered to be critical for sustainable economic growth and development. ...
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