Self-employment is an important component of many development strategies aiming to enhance earnings and employment among low-income populations. However, women tend to earn less than men through self-employment, calling into question the effectiveness of self-employment as a tool for bolstering women's earnings. In this paper, we identify a novel intervention that boosts women's returns from self-employment and narrows the gender earnings gap in an informal, residential market. We argue that micro-spatial resources offer gender-specific advantages to female business owners. We show how gendered constraints on women's labor market activity intersect with spatial resources to influence their likelihood of running a business and their self-employment earnings. Using data from a Colombian public housing complex, we find that the randomly assigned location of a resident's apartment significantly influences women's business activity, but not men's. Women who run informal, home-based businesses from favorable locations earn more than twice as much as comparable women, narrowing the gender earnings gap by 58.5% and earning an income that lifts them above the poverty line. This study offers a new perspective on how gender and micro-geography intersect to shape self-employment. More broadly, it reveals how an important but often-overlooked factor, micro-spatial variation, influences economic development.
From the Ground Up: Gender, Space, and Self-Employment in a Colombian Housing Project
For their comments and suggestions, we are grateful to Anne Bowers, Ethan Mollick, Sarah Thébaud, and András Tilcsik, as well as audience members at INSEAD, the University of Maryland, the University of Toronto, and the 2017 Economic Sociology / Organizations, Occupations and Work mini-conference. We also appreciate research assistance from Rocío Vilchez Bustamante. Finally, we are grateful to Ronald Silva Manjarrés, Anahel Hernández Valega, and Jenny Reyes Florez for their research support in Colombia.
Laura B. Doering, Christopher C. Liu; From the Ground Up: Gender, Space, and Self-Employment in a Colombian Housing Project. Sociology of Development 1 June 2019; 5 (2): 198–224. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/sod.2019.5.2.198
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