Randomization for women's economic empowerment? Lessons and limitations of randomized experiments

Pieters, Janneke; Klasen, Stephan


Worldwide, policy-makers and academics alike are searching for ways to enhance women's economic empowerment. One important route to economic empowerment – paid employment – still shows wide gender disparities. We discuss some lessons from randomized evaluations of microfinance, business training, and other interventions aimed at increasing women's employment and earnings. We then point at important barriers related to women's responsibility for childcare and domestic duties as well as other social norms. To improve policies for gender equality, we need to understand how norms affect women's labor market entry and trajectories, what works to mitigate their impact, and how they can change. We argue that RCTs can help us find answers, but that we also need to keep studying macroeconomic changes, non-randomized development and gender policy interventions, and large-scale micro-level panel data capturing employment dynamics.