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Women's Empowerment Can Reduce the Malaria Burden in Malawi

Job Market Paper

w/ Bradford Barham and Kelly Wu

In Malawi in 2017, one in three people, mostly children, are estimated to have had malaria. Despite government and NGO interventions scaling up in the past decade, transmission rates remain high. We suggest a new policy lever for this setting: women's empowerment. In this paper, we document gender inequality in the family in Malawi and a causal, negative relationship between women's empowerment and family members' likelihood of malaria infection. Our point estimates of bargaining power in the median family range from 0.20 - 0.42 across several methods, suggesting that women have somewhere between 20% and 70% of the decision-making power that their partners have. Using an instrumental variables approach, we find that a one standard deviation increase in women's bargaining power would decrease the likelihood that a family member contracts malaria by 45%. We suggest that NGO and government programs addressing malaria incorporate a female empowerment component to leverage this causal relationship.