Evidence of gender inequality in energy use from a mixed-methods study in India


Prior studies suggest that women particularly stand to benefit from increased electricity access. Yet, few have empirically tested this implicit linkage between energy access (SDG 7) and gender equality (SDG 5). More specifically, few explore how female household members use electricity once it is made accessible. Using India as an illustrative case, we conduct a mixed-methods study. We first inductively assess household appliance use by gender in Gujarat (n = 31). We then assess the generalizability of the use patterns identified through a representative six-state household survey (Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, n = 8,563). In including use, we find that women are neither the sole nor primary beneficiaries of electricity access, even when appliances that would particularly benefit them are affordable. While energy access could improve gender equity, our study highlights intra-household power dynamics as an important boundary condition on realizing more equitable energy access.

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Fig. 1: Household matrices of appliance ownership and use.
Fig. 2: Effects of grid electricity on ownership of male- versus female-used appliances.

Data availability

The data for the generalizability study conducted in six Indian states are publicly available at Harvard Dataverse (https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataverse/IndiaAccess).

Code availability

The code used to generate the results is also made available here: https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/DRVBZY. The data for the inductive study in Gujarat (questionnaire data, interview data and ethnographic observations) are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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We thank the Gujarat Institute of Development Research, the School for International Training (SIT) and ANANDI and its partner organization Mahila Swaraj Munch. We thank J. Andharia, the Executive Director of ANADI, and T. Nair at the Gujarat Institute of Development Research for their assistance in the planning and execution of this study. We thank V. Parmar for his translation assistance. The inductive study was conducted as part of the M.R’s participation in the SIT India Sustainable Development and Social Change Programme. We thank G. Morgan and participants of the GAP Conference, Clean Technologies in Developing Countries, at the University of Pittsburgh for their helpful feedback on earlier drafts of the manuscript.

Author information

M.R. developed the initial concept for the overall study and designed, executed and contributed to the writing of the inductive portion of the study. D.E.A. contributed to the research design and the data analysis for the inductive study, to the research design and the data analysis for the generalizability study, and to the overall writing of the paper. M.A. contributed to the research design and data analysis of the generalizability study, as well as to the overall writing of the entire paper. P.J. contributed to the research design for the inductive study and contributed to the overall writing of the paper.

Correspondence to Daniel Erian Armanios.

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Supplementary Information

Application questionnaire, Supplementary Figs. 1 and 2 and Tables 1–22.

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Rosenberg, M., Armanios, D.E., Aklin, M. et al. Evidence of gender inequality in energy use from a mixed-methods study in India. Nat Sustain 3, 110–118 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-019-0447-3

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