A Gender Dimension of Energy: Modern Cooking Fuels Connected to Quicker Demographic Transition
Switching to modern cooking fuels like gas or to electricity can improve the well-being of women in the global South, and eventually be connected to falling birth rates, a new study by researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research shows. This highlights, for the first time, a connection between the global energy transition and the demographic transition in poorer countries.
“We find that switching to modern fuels like gas or to electricity not only improves health, it also relieves women of the need to have many children to do time-consuming housework like fetching firewood or cooking on open fires. This frees up time to seek information and education – and eventually helps women realise their reproductive rights. This is a direct line connecting the switch from modern energies to the demographic transition,” Camille Belmin, lead author and researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact research lays out.
“Our study results are highly relevant given that more than half of the world’s population lacks access to modern cooking fuels. This is a gendered problem, as its consequences fall mostly on women and girls: Their time consuming chores and lack of electricity keep some of them off the schoolyards and modern media like TV or the internet, a crucial source of information. And not least, burning wood or charcoal carries health hazards for everyone in the home.” says Belmin.
Based on a panel data spanning 25 years and 44 countries in the global South, the researchers applied statistical methods to find the connection between access to modern energy and a lower fertility to be significant. The strongest effects were found in countries with initially high fertility rates Helga Weisz, co-author from the Potsdam Institute says: “Education is undoubtedly key, too. Access to modern cooking fuels and electricity, which we sum up as modern energy, is complementary to education. Both modern energy and education are paths to more choice for women about the number of children they bear. This means that expanding access to modern energy is likely to accelerate the demographic transition, too – with lower overall carbon emissions required,” Weisz says.
The results have policy implications, too: “Recognizing the multiple benefits of modern energy for women’s lives opens new avenues for development policies. Such programs would target women’s well-being, self-determination, and reproductive choice, and fertility decline would merely be a consequence”, Belmin concludes.
Belmin, C., Hoffmann, R., Pichler, P.-P., Weisz, H. (2021) Fertility transition powered by women’s access to electricity and modern cooking fuels. Nature Sustainability. DOI: 10.1038/s41893-021-00830-3