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Clearing the smoke from the kitchen

28 November 2014

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Paul Burke is a Fellow in the Arndt-Corden Department of Economics. His research interests include economic growth and development, energy economics, environmental and natural resource economics, Asia-Pacific economies and empirical political economy. He teaches Microeconomic Analysis and Policy (IDEC8016) and Environmental Economics (IDEC 8053) at Crawford School.

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The economic empowerment of females in developing countries helps households move away from the use of low-quality biomass fuels, a new study from Crawford School has found.

The study, co-authored by Crawford School’s Dr Paul Burke and recent Crawford School Masters graduate Guy Dundas, used data for more than 100 countries to analyse factors affecting the use of fuelwood and other bio-energy materials by households.

“Our research suggests that as females’ opportunity cost of time increases, households are likely to become less dependent on biomass energy. With more income, households also tend to adopt modern energy sources that are less locally polluting,” Dr Burke said.

In many places, women are the principal collectors and users of biomass for household cooking and heating. Both activities can be time-consuming. The paper finds that a rise in female labour force participation of 10 percentage points is typically associated with a 20 per cent reduction in household biomass energy use.

Smoke from household use of biomass energy is a leading cause of health problems in many developing countries.

“Almost three billion people rely on traditional fuels for the majority of their cooking needs. Homes can be very smoky, and this is terrible for people’s health,” Dr Burke said.

The World Health Organisation estimates that 4.3 million deaths per year are caused by household air pollution from the combustion of biomass and coal, mainly in developing countries. The international community is working toward universal access to modern energy under the United Nation’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative.

“Female labor force participation remains low in many developing countries. Our results suggest that additional efforts to promote the economic empowerment of females would help in achieving the Sustainable Energy for All goals,” Dr Burke said.

Guy Dundas won the Helen Hughes Master Degree Prize and the Chris Higgins Prize during his time studying at Crawford School.

The research has been published in World Development. The paper, data, and estimation commands can be downloaded from Paul Burke’s website.

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