It is stated that giving women equality and control over their reproduction reduces the poverty in any community. Christopher Hitchens:

"We already know the cure to poverty...it's quite simply, the empowerment of women."

While I tend to believe this person -- I would like to have more facts and explanations about it.

Is there any factual evidence for such an assertion? And if there is -- what are the explanations for it?

  • 5
    How are we to measure empowerment, cure and poverty? I mean, can poverty even be cured?
    – MrHen
    May 25, 2011 at 13:50
  • 4
    Empowerment also means much more than just voting rights.
    – Lagerbaer
    May 25, 2011 at 14:12
  • 4
    It's rather than a cure, one of the necessary parts to move a country into modern society, which is a prerequisite for it becoming wealthy, with the exception for finding some natural resource and being able to make money from that without succumbing to internal strife. May 25, 2011 at 14:13
  • 2
    @Andrew Grimm: Slavery will be a drag on any modern economy. It lowers the pay for free workers, and is a disincentive for investing in any sort of mechanization or other serious labor-saving measures. May 25, 2011 at 15:51
  • 5
    "Is there any factual evidence for such an assertion?" is not argumentative. Nor, strictly, open-ended. May 25, 2011 at 17:15

3 Answers 3


Hitchens doesn't mean that empowerment of women is the only issue with regard to poverty, and he certainly isn't talking about "women's suffrage". What he is talking about is this:

In many places in the world where there is endemic and widespread poverty, women have essentially zero economic resources. Their only tasks are the raising of children and manual labour in either the home or fields. For these and other reasons women are hugely more likely to be poor than men.

One of the most effective ways that has been found for dealing with this poverty is the encouragement of small businesses. Often this has been done through Microfinance, and it's been widely noted that (for whatever reason) women have been the most effective recipients of Microfinance. Again for whatever reason, these businesses also appear to raise the economic level of the community they live in.

Here is a scholarly article looking at exactly this question. Here are some others:

  • 3
    I think that it's a correct statement in general as far as economics of it; but where is the proof that this is what Hitchens meant? The only relevant quote of his I found was very different in context than micro-finance: "access to contraceptives and reproductive rights as the only thing that is known to cure poverty"
    – user5341
    May 25, 2011 at 15:13
  • I heard Hitchens in one of his debates with Tony Blair, and he used the phrase quoted above. He certainly wasn't restricting himself to reproductive rights, though he may have been focussing on them because he wanted to score points off Tony Blair (a Catholic). May 25, 2011 at 15:28
  • did he ever mention micro-finance at all?
    – user5341
    May 25, 2011 at 15:38
  • Not if I recall. The question asked about factual evidence to support the assertion, and this is it. It's unlikely that Hitchens, an intelligent and informed person, meant something for which there is no supporting evidence when there is an interpretation that has a lot of supporting evidence. May 25, 2011 at 17:14
  • Additionally the "empowering of women" is not limited to microfinance; that's merely one example. May 25, 2011 at 17:18

Since no answer showed actual economics research, I'll present at least one.


Does Female Empowerment Promote Economic Development? Matthias Doepke, Michele Tertilt ; April 2011


Empirical evidence suggests that money in the hands of mothers (as opposed to their husbands) benefits children. Does this observation imply that targeting transfers to women is good economic policy? We develop a series of noncooperative family bargaining models to understand what kind of frictions can give rise to the observed empirical relationships. We then assess the policy implications of these models.

We find that targeting transfers to women can have unintended consequences and may fail to make children better off. Moreover, different forms of empowering women may lead to opposite results. More research is needed to distinguish between alternative theoretical models.

  • 2
    -1, I wouldn't exactly point to that as definitive research, it is a set of theoretical economic models applied to empirical findings in the existing literature. The conclusion is basically, "we should gather more evidence to test these models."
    – user7116
    May 26, 2011 at 18:47
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    @sixlettervariables - so, an inconclusive research is worse than answers that show NO research whatsoever? I didn't notice you downvoting a single one of those.
    – user5341
    May 27, 2011 at 2:05
  • You should be skeptical that I downvoted you...I have too few rep. I would have downvoted you. Most theoretical economic research is about as useful as no research, but I'm just skeptical of research with a retrospective model.
    – user7116
    May 27, 2011 at 2:54
  • Another useful reference would be The Wealth and Poverty of Nations by David S. Landes, noted economic historian, which provides evidence (if I recall correct) that supports the conclusion that female employment increases economic development. Jul 19, 2011 at 21:02
  • 1
    If you had chosen slightly different highlighting you might have shown s different conclusion: "Empirical evidence suggests that money in the hands of mothers (as opposed to their husbands) benefits children." Sep 4, 2013 at 20:22

In Canada they are arguing that:

  • Most poor people are girls
  • Girls use their wealth (money, health, and education) to better their families

"And yet research is also clear that when girls reach their full potential, through improved status, better health care, and education, it is the most effective development tool for society as a whole. As a country's primary enrolment rate for girls increases, so too does its gross domestic product per capita."

-- Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General

Learn More.

  • 7
    The assertion in the asnwer is not shown to be supported by research. A quote from a political figure a proof does not make
    – user5341
    May 26, 2011 at 14:06

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