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Family Planning and Women’s Economic Empowerment: Incentive Effects and Direct Effects among Malaysian Women

Although family planning programs can improve women’s welfare directly through changes in realized fertility, they may also have important incentive effects by increasing parents’ investments in girls not yet fertile. Exploiting the staggered implementation of family planning programs in Malaysia during the 1960s and 1970s among girls of varying ages, we study these potential incentive effects, finding that family planning may have raised raise girls’ educational attainment substantially. We also find that these early investments are linked to gains in women’s paid labor at prime working ages and to greater support for women’s elderly parents (a marker for women’s bargaining power within the household). Notably, these incentive effects may be larger than the direct effects of family planning alone.

Center for Global Development Working Paper 471, 2017 (with Kim Singer Babiarz, Jiwon Lee, Tey Nai Peng, and Christine Valente)