Research to bridge the digital gender divide

In addition to their value in communication, social connection, and entertainment, smartphones and other mobile devices increasingly serve as portals to opportunity, information, and employment. But there is often a gender gap in access to mobile technology, particularly in parts of South Asia: in 2015–16, for example, only about 33 percent of Indian women owned or used mobile phones, compared to 67 percent of men.

Although norms against Indian women’s phone use are prevalent, government support for women’s access to phones may reduce these gender-biased views.

In 2017, a team including researchers from Inclusion Economics at Yale University and Inclusion Economics India Centre – in collaboration with researchers from Duke University, Harvard University, the University of Southern California, and the University of Warwick – launched a multi-pronged initiative to understand the sources of India’s digital gender gap and identify potential solutions. Leveraging experimental and quasi-experimental research in rural Chhattisgarh, a state in central India, the team is building evidence on the different ways in which men and women engage with mobile services, the socioeconomic consequences of women’s access to mobile technology, and how to overcome barriers to women’s adoption and use of mobile phones. A key objective of the research, which began collecting endline data in late 2021, is to understand how economic incentives and norms affect women’s mobile phone engagement in ways that may exacerbate, or reduce, the digital gender divide.

Related Publications

A Tough Call: Understanding Barriers to and Impacts of Women’s Mobile Phone Adoption in India

Today in India, 71% of men own mobile phones, but only 38% of women do. In this report researchers identify the leading barriers to Indian women’s use of mobile phones, compare the importance of these barriers, and determine directions for further research into how to reduce them.

Accelerating Indian Women’s Use of Mobile Phones through Low-Cost Training in Digital Skills Improves Their Mental Health

In India, a wide gender disparity in access to mobile phones and the internet reinforces women’s social isolation and may contribute to women’s higher levels of depression than men. To more effectively address the mobile gender gap in India, our researchers are designing and implementing interventions that build on existing Indian government mobile phone distribution programs while taking into account the gender-specific social constraints and knowledge gaps that may restrict women’s use of mobile technology.

What Works to Close Digital Gender Gaps?

In emerging economies like India, the rapid spread of mobile phones has connected low-income households to vital information, markets, and services. In 2016, India became the second-largest smartphone market in the world (GSMA, 2016) and in 2017, the year before the two policy levers we evaluated were implemented, 45 percent of Indian citizens already had smartphone access (GSMA, 2018b). However, this smartphone expansion remains gendered.

About the Project

Principal Investigators:

Implementation Partners:

This research has received support from: