Several field experiments find positive returns to grants for male and not female microentrepreneurs. But, these analyses largely overlook that male and female micro-entrepreneurs often belong to the same household. Using data from randomized trials in India, Sri Lanka and Ghana, we show that the gender gap in microenterprise performance is not due to a gap in aptitude. Instead, low average returns of female-run enterprises are observed because women’s capital is invested into their husbands’ enterprises rather than their own. When women are the sole household enterprise operator, capital shocks lead to large increases in profits. Household-level income gains are equivalent regardless of the grant or loan recipient’s gender.
Research shows that when people participate in the financial system, they are better able to manage risk, start or invest in a business, and fund large expenditures like education or a home improvement. Increasing women’s financial inclusion is especially important as women disproportionately experience poverty, stemming from unequal divisions of labor and a lack of control over economic resources. While demand and supply side barriers to women’s financial inclusion remain, this review shows that appropriate financial product design can help overcome some of these barriers. This review is organized by product and presents the existing evidence on the impact of savings, credit, payments, and insurance products on women’s economic empowerment outcomes, as well as the remaining open research questions in each area. The studies included in this review are limited to those designed as randomized control trials (RCTs), widely considered to be the gold standard in impact evaluation methodology.
A field experiment in Sri Lanka provided wage subsidies to randomly chosen microenterprises to test whether hiring additional labor benefits such firms, and whether a short-term subsidy can have a lasting impact on firm employment. Using 12 rounds of surveys to track dynamics four years after treatment, we find that firms increased employment during the subsidy period. Treated firms were more likely to survive, but there was no lasting impact on employment, and no effect on profitability or sales either during or after the subsidy period. There is some heterogeneity in effects; the subsidies have more durable effect on manufacturers.
We use randomized grants to generate shocks to capital stock for a set of Sri Lankan microenterprises. We find the average real return to capital in these enterprises is 4.6%–5.3% per month (55%–63% per year), substantially higher than market interest rates. We then examine the heterogeneity of treatment effects. Returns are found to vary with entrepreneurial ability and with household wealth, but not to vary with measures of risk aversion or uncertainty. Treatment impacts are also significantly larger for enterprises owned by males; indeed, we find no positive return in enterprises owned by females.