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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Access Nature and 54 other Nature Portfolio journals
Get Nature+, our best-value online-access subscription
$29.99 / 30 days
cancel any time
Subscribe to this journal
Receive 12 digital issues and online access to articles
$119.00 per year
only $9.92 per issue
Rent or buy this article
Prices vary by article type
Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout
The data for the generalizability study conducted in six Indian states are publicly available at Harvard Dataverse (https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataverse/IndiaAccess).
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.
Nilsson, M., Griggs, D. & Visbeck, M. Policy: map the interactions between sustainable development goals. Nature 534, 320–322 (2016).
Bleischwitz, R. et al. Resource nexus perspectives towards the United Nations sustainable development goals. Nat. Sustain. 1, 737–743 (2018).
Berthaud, A. et al. Integrating Gender in Energy Provision Case Study of Bangladesh ESMAP paper (World Bank, 2004); http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/260121468742527534/Integrating-gender-in-energy-provision-case-study-of-Bangladesh.
Bose, S. Money, Energy and Welfare: The State and the Household in India’s Rural Electrification Policy (Oxford Univ. Press, 1993).
Desai, S. & Jain, D. Maternal employment and changes in family dynamics—the social-context of womens work in rural south-india. Popul. Dev. Rev. 20, 115–136 (1994).
Köhlin, G., Sills, E. O., Pattanayak, S. K. & Wilfong, C. Energy, Gender and Development: What Are the Linkages? Where Is the Evidence? World Bank Policy Research Working Paper (World Bank, 2011).
Ashraf, N., Karlan, D. & Yin, W. Female empowerment: impact of a commitment savings product in the Philippines. World Dev. 38, 333–344 (2010).
Daly, H. et al. Energy Access Outlook: From Poverty to Prosperity (ed. Hosker, E.) (OECD, International Energy Agency, 2017).
Kaygusuz, K. Energy services and energy poverty for sustainable rural development. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 15, 936–947 (2011).
Mathur, J. K. & Mathur, D. Dark homes and smoky hearths: rural electrification and women. Econ. Polit. Wkly 40, 638–643 (2005).
Prayas Energy Group. Proc. Report of the Round Table on Gender and Electricity (Prayas Energy Group, 2014). .
Burke, P. J. & Dundas, G. Female labor force participation and household dependence on biomass energy: evidence from national longitudinal data. World Dev. 67, 424–437 (2015).
Mercer-Blackman, V. & Tanaka, S. Women in the Workforce: An Unmet Potential in Asia and the Pacific (ed. Llorin, C. Jr) (Asian Development Bank, 2015).
Parikh, J. Hardships and health impacts on women due to traditional cooking fuels: a case study of Himachal Pradesh, India. Energy Policy 39, 7587–7594 (2011).
Bhatia, M. & Angelou, N. Beyond Connections: Energy Access Redefined ESMAP Technical Report 008/15 (World Bank, 2015).
Duflo, E. & Udry, C. Intrahousehold Resource Allocation in Cote d’Ivoire: Social Norms, Separate Accounts and Consumption Choices Working Paper no. 10498 (NBER, 2004).
Haddad, L. J., Hoddinott, J., Alderman, H. & International Food Policy Research Institute. Intrahousehold Resource Allocation in Developing Countries: Models, Methods, and Policy (Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1997).
Wang, S. Y. Property rights and intra-household bargaining. J. Dev. Econ. 107, 192–201 (2014).
Stopnitzky, Y. No toilet no bride? Intrahousehold bargaining in male-skewed marriage markets in India. J. Dev. Econ. 127, 269–282 (2017).
Edmondson, A. C. & McManus, S. E. Methodological fit in management field research. Acad. Manag. Rev. 32, 1155–1179 (2007).
Aklin, M., Cheng, C.-y., Ganesan, K., Jain, A. & Urpelainen, J. Council on Energy, Environment and Water. Access to Clean Cooking Energy and Electricity: Survey of States in India (ACCESS) Harvard Dataverse, V1 (2016); http://dx.doi.org/10.7910/DVN/0NV9LF
Sovacool, B. K. What are we doing here? Analyzing fifteen years of energy scholarship and proposing a social science research agenda. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 1, 1–29 (2014).
Sovacool, B. K. Energy studies need social science. Nature 511, 529–530 (2014).
Daly, H et al. Energy Access Outlook 2017: From Poverty to Prosperity (International Energy Agency, 2017).
Banerjee, S. G., Barnes, D., Singh, B., Mayer, K. & Samad, H. Power for All: Electricity Access Challenge in India (World Bank, 2015).
Williams, N. J., Jaramillo, P., Taneja, J. & Ustun, T. S. Enabling private sector investment in microgrid-based rural electrification in developing countries: a review. Renew. Sustain. Energ. Rev. 52, 1268–1281 (2015).
Mishra, P. K. Alleviating Energy Poverty Through Innovation: The Case of Jyotigramyojana (Rural Lighting Scheme) of Gujarat (World Energy Congress, 2010).
Power Distribution Reforms in Gujarat Working Paper (IDFC, 2009).
Shah, T. & Verma, S. Co-management of electricity and groundwater: an assessment of Gujarat’s Jyotirgram scheme. Econ. Polit. Wkly 43, 59–66 (2008).
Dinkelman, T. The effects of rural electrification on employment: new evidence from South Africa. Am. Econ. Rev. 101, 3078–3108 (2011).
Khandker, S. R., Samad, H. A., Ali, R. & Barnes, D. F. Who Benefits Most from Rural Electrification? Evidence in India World Bank Policy Research Working Paper (World Bank, 2012).
Smith, K. R. et al. Millions dead: how do we know and what does it mean? Methods used in the comparative risk assessment of household air pollution. Annu. Rev. Public Health 35, 185–206 (2014).
The Impact of Energy on Women’s Lives in Rural India (ESMAP, 2004); https://www.esmap.org/sites/esmap.org/files/The%20Impact%20of%20Energy%20on%20Women%27s%20Lives%20in%20Rural%20India.pdf.
Lenz, L., Munyehirwe, A., Peters, J. & Sievert, M. Does large-scale infrastructure investment alleviate poverty? Impacts of Rwanda’s electricity access roll-out program. World Dev. 89, 88–110 (2017).
Acharya, R. H. & Sadath, A. C. Implications of energy subsidy reform in India. Energy Policy 102, 453–462 (2017).
Sehgal, M., Rizwan, S. A. & Krishnan, A. Disease burden due to biomass cooking-fuel-related household air pollution among women in India. Glob. Health Action 7, 25326 (2014).
Cowan, R. S. More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave (Basic Books, 1983).
Winther, T., Matinga, M. N., Ulsrud, K. & Standal, K. Women’s empowerment through electricity access: scoping study and proposal for a framework of analysis. J. Dev. Eff. 9, 389–417 (2017).
Sovacool, B. K. et al. The energy–enterprise–gender nexus: lessons from the Multifunctional Platform (MFP) in Mali. Renew. Energy 50, 115–125 (2013).
Thomas, D. Intra-household resource allocation: an inferential approach. J. Hum. Resour. 25, 635–664 (1990).
Eisenhardt, K. M. Building theories from case study research. Acad. Manag. Rev. 14, 532–550 (1989).
Glaser, B. G. & Strauss, A. L. The Discovery of Grounded Theory; Strategies for Qualitative Research (Aldine, 1967).
Yin, R. K. Case Study Research: Design and Methods 2nd edn (Sage, 1994).
Stinchcombe, A. L. The Logic of Social Research (Univ. of Chicago Press, 2005).
Watters, J. K. & Biernacki, P. Targeted sampling—options for the study of hidden populations. Soc. Probl. 36, 416–430 (1989).
Eisenhardt, K. M. Making fast strategic decisions in high-velocity environments. Acad. Manag. J. 32, 543–576 (1989).
Kanagawa, M. & Nakata, T. Assessment of access to electricity and the socio-economic impacts in rural areas of developing countries. Energy Policy 36, 2016–2029 (2008).
Feller, A. & Gelman, A. in Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral Sciences (eds Scott, R. & Kosslyn, S.) 1–16 (John Wiley & Sons, 2015).
Cinelli, C. & Hazlett, C. Making Sense of Sensitivity: Extending Omitted Variable Bias. R package—Sensemakr: Sensitivity Analysis Tools for OLS Working Paper (2018).
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.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
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
This article is cited by
Evidence of multidimensional gender inequality in energy services from a large-scale household survey in India
Nature Energy (2022)
Nature Sustainability (2021)
Differences in firewood users’ and LPG users’ perceived relationships between cooking fuels and women’s multidimensional well-being in rural India
Nature Energy (2020)
Nature Energy (2020)