Giving women greater digital power over their wages encouraged employment and liberalised their beliefs.

According to a new study co-authored by Yale economists Rohini Pande and Charity Troyer Moore, women in India’s Madhya Pradesh state were encouraged to enter the labour force after they given greater digital control over their wages. This liberalised their beliefs about working women.

The research team collaborated with government and banking partners to enable direct deposit of women’s wages from the federal workfare program into their own bank accounts rather than into a male-controlled household account. They conducted a randomised controlled trial covering 197 village clusters and surveyed a total of 4,300 women. The villages were divided among a control group and four treatment groups, only one of which received bank accounts, direct deposit, and training. The researchers refer to this group in Northern Madhya Pradesh, which is a particularly restrictive region to gender norms, as being ‘digitally empowered’.

‘The fact that digitally empowered women were earning more in the private sector suggests that having more control of their earnings spread into other aspects of their lives, giving them the ability to negotiate with other household members to work more outside their homes’, said Troyer Moore, director of South Asia economics research at Yale’s MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies. ‘It tells us that a simple policy intervention has altered a cultural norm, which is very exciting’.

While researchers were conducting the study, the Indian government began scaling up direct deposit of workfare wages into female-owned accounts nationwide, but the effort involved neither targeted outreach to eligible women nor any systematic account training, key elements of the most successful intervention that the study identified, the researchers said.

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