Mobile phones are an invaluable economic asset for the poor and an important tool for strengthening social ties. Mobile phones may also help women overcome physical boundaries, especially in places where they are separated from support networks and are bound within their husbands’ social spheres. Using micro-level data on women and men from recent Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) including new information on mobile-phone ownership, this study examines whether mobile phones might contribute to improving the status of women across 11 low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) by lowering their likelihood of experiencing intimate partner violence (IPV). Our findings show that women’s ownership of mobile phones is associated with a 7- 11 percent decrease in the likelihood of experiencing emotional, physical, and sexual violence, even after controlling for a host of socio-economic characteristics proxying for socio-economic status and household resources. Results are robust to the use of non-parametric matching techniques and instrumental variables built through household- and cluster-level information obtained from geo- referenced ancillary sources. We explore three potential mechanisms and show that mobile-phone ownership is positively associated with women’s decision-making power within the household (empowerment), less favorable attitudes towards wife-beating on the part of men (attitudes), and lower generalized violence at the community level (community). Our findings complement existing research on the role of the media as empowering tools for women in disadvantaged settings and shed additional light on the role of the digital revolution in promoting sustainable development worldwide. We conclude by contextualizing our findings in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Luca Pesando is an Assistant Professor in Demography and Sociology in the Department of Sociology and Centre on Population Dynamics at McGill University. He holds a PhD in Demography and Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania, and an MA and BA in Economics and Social Sciences from Bocconi University. His research lies in the areas of social, economic, and digital demography and explores the interactions between family change and educational inequalities in low- and middle-income countries. More recently, Luca has conducted research using social media data from Google and Facebook. Having worked with JPAL, the OECD, UNICEF, and other NGOs, he has extensive experience in the policy world. His published work has appeared in multiple outlets such as Demography, Population and Development Review, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Journal of Marriage and Family, etc.