Deepening Inequalities or Opportunities for Renegotiation? :
The Impact of Climate Shocks on the Gendered Distribution of Household Labor
Our study aims to adjudicate between three competing hypotheses about the impact of environmental shocks on the gendered distribution of labor within households. When power relations between men and women are unequal, we might expect the work burden associated with shock response to fall more heavily on women. Much of the existing literature assumes that women will shoulder this burden, but empirical verification has been minimal. An alternative possibility is that the disruption caused by climate shocks provides an opportunity for the renegotiation of gender contracts within the household in favor of women. Finally, we might simply expect a continuation of pre-existing distributions of labor and responsibility rather than an intensification or reduction of women’s responsibility, given the relative rigidity of gender value systems and social norms.
Using recent panel data from the World Bank’s Living Standards Measurement Study, as well as geo-referenced meteorological data, we examine the impact of climate shocks (defined as significant deviations in temperature from the seasonal average) on the relative workloads of male and female household members in three types of work: agricultural work, paid work, and water/fuel collection. We began by examining data from Malawi, with plans to expand the analysis to comparable datasets from Tanzania, Uganda, and Ethiopia. Preliminary results using household and time fixed effects suggest that climate shocks provide an opportunity for renegotiation of gendered household labor allocations in favor of women, rather than an increase in the work burden they bear.