Increasing Savings for Vulnerable Women’s Empowerment

Western Kenya

Collaborators: Erick Gong and Felipe Dizon

2013-2015. American Economic Association RCT Registry # AEARCTR-0000323.

In lower-middle income countries like Kenya, the gender gap in holding formal savings is a shocking 33%. Evidence from Kenya and across Africa suggests that women's inability to smooth consumption during income shocks can increase harmful shock-coping behaviors, including transactional sex. Increasing women's access to and knowledge of appropriate savings products has the potential to offset the harmful impacts and externalities of some shock-coping behaviors.

We enrolled 600+ vulnerable women in an randomized-controlled trial to test the ability of personal precautionary savings to change shock-coping behaviors. Half of the women were self-identified commercial sex workers in Kisumu, the other half were widows and other single women with dependents in a nearby rural area. All of the women received training on savings, and participated in weekly interviews for three months. Half of each sample was randomly assigned to additionally receive a new mobile money account earmarked for personal savings, and weekly text message reminders.

We find significant increases in savings balances among the treated group. We examine how these exogenously-induced changes in savings impact participation in informal risk-sharing arrangements and shock-coping behaviors.

Publications & Working Papers

"Improving shock coping with precautionary savings: The effects of mobile banking on transactional sex in Kenya" with Erick Gong. (2021) Journal of Health Economics, 78: 102460.

"The effect of promoting savings on informal risk-sharing: experimental evidence from vulnerable women in Kenya" with Felipe Dizon and Erick Gong. (2019) Journal of Human Resources 0917-9077R2; published ahead of print June 7, 2019. Web appendix here. Replication package here. Ungated working paper version here.

"Information constraints, peer effects, and the adoption of a savings account in Kenya" Felipe Dizon. (2017)

"For vulnerable households, even small health shocks are not fully insured" Kelly Jones (2017)

Web Media

VoxDev article (link)

IFPRI Research Blog (link)

Development Impact Blog (link)

IPA project summary (link)