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The pill and empowering young girls in Malaysia

Dr Christine Valente, Reader in Economics

9 January 2018

It's not a big stretch to imagine that greater access to birth control means women can increase their contribution to the labour force, and boost their earning potential throughout their lifetime. In rich countries, another direct effect of access to birth control is that women may be less likely to get pregnant before completing their schooling.

But according to new research involving EFM’s Dr Christine Valente, Reader in Economics, there are also indirect benefits to young girl’s lives well before contraceptive use becomes relevant to them, suggesting that the benefits of contraceptives in poorer countries may be larger than previously thought.

"I have been working with Grant Miller (Stanford) on several projects trying to understand when and why people use contraception, and he suggested I collaborated with him and Kim Babiarz (Standford) on this project.

What I thought was particularly interesting about it was how basic economics can shed new light on a very policy-relevant question: as with any other investment, investing in a girl’s schooling becomes more profitable when she is expected to have better job prospects in the future, which she does thanks to contraception."

The paper "Family Planning and Women’s Empowerment: Incentive Effects and Direct Effects among Malaysian Women" created working together with four other researchers, gives new evidence on the incentive effects (and direct effects) of family planning among women in Malaysia.

Combining data on individual education decisions and information on the rollout of family planning programmes started in the 1960s, researchers came to some striking conclusions – as summarised in the Economist.

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