Can mobile phones improve gender equality and nutrition? Panel data evidence from farm households in Uganda

Elsevier, Food Policy, Volume 73, December 2017
Sekabira H., Qaim M.
Since 2000, mobile phone technologies have been widely adopted in many developing countries. Existing research shows that use of mobile phones has improved smallholder farmers’ market access and income. Beyond income, mobile phones can possibly affect other dimensions of social welfare, such as gender equality and nutrition. Such broader social welfare effects have hardly been analyzed up till now. Here, we address this research gap, using panel data from smallholder farm households in Uganda. Regression results show that mobile phone use is positively associated with household income, women empowerment, food security, and dietary quality. These results also hold after controlling for possible confounding factors. In addition to the household-level analysis, we also look at who within the household actually uses mobile phones. Gender-disaggregation suggests that female mobile phone use has stronger positive associations with social welfare than if males alone use mobile phones. We cautiously conclude that equal access to mobile phones cannot only foster economic development, but can also contribute to gender equality, food security, and broader social development. Further research is required to corroborate the findings and analyze the underlying causal mechanisms.