Climate Change, Health and Gender Gaps in Human Capital Investment
Global warming is expected to worsen disease environments, particularly in the tropics, with the most vulnerable countries concentrated in Africa and Asia, where some of the world’s poorest populations currently reside. While much attention has been devoted to studying the environmental costs of climate change, the literature is relatively thin on identifying the impact of climate induced disease on social inequality, particularly on inequities related to gender. The goal of this project is to examine the role of climate induced disease in widening the gender gap in human capital investment, with a focus on identifying the mechanisms through which the effect occurs. We review the literature on climate change, disease and gender gaps, and highlight evidence from a particular disease context- the meningitis belt in sub-Saharan Africa. We provide evidence that changes in the seasonal climate, through the dry season or Harmattan period are strongly associated with meningitis epidemics in the region. Using data from Niger’s 1986 meningitis epidemic, we estimate the impact of sudden exposure to the epidemic on girls’ education relative to boys. Our results show that educational attainment of school-going aged girls as of the time of the epidemic is significantly reduced, relative to their male counterparts, in areas with high meningitis exposure. We highlight income effects of the epidemic and, specifically, early marriage of girls in exchange for a bride price to smooth household consumption following a contraction of the budget constraint post the epidemic as a primary mechanism driving the results. In other work, we estimate the economic costs of disease using evidence from the meningitis belt, with a focus on the role of climate-induced disease in worsening inequalities throughout the region. We also examine the impacts of air pollution on health and cognitive development with associated implications for investment in human capital as well. The findings highlight the need for more research on the role of household coping strategies in worsening future gender inequities in the aftermath of climate induced disease shocks.
This project is part of CDEP's Human Capital Initiative.