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Working Paper

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The author is grateful for useful comments and suggestions received at the Population Association of America (PAA) Annual Conference 2021, Canadian Population Society (CPS) Annual Conference 2021, Society of the Economics of the Household (SEHO) Annual Conference 2021, and 2nd IUSSP Population, Poverty, and Inequality Research Conference 2020. The author is also grateful for useful comments and suggestions received from seminar participants at the Department of Demography, Australian National University. Pesando would like to thank Dr. Valentina Rotondi for sharing georeferenced ancillary data and contributing to preliminary aspects of the manuscript. This study received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement n. 694262), project DisCont - Discontinuities in Household and Family Formation. Pesando acknowledges support from the Internal Social Science and Humanities Development Grant at McGill University (Fund #: 253338) and the Insight Development Grant (Fund #: 430-2021-00147) awarded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research (SSHRC) Council of Canada (PI: Pesando).


Mobile phones are an invaluable economic asset for low-income individuals and an important tool for strengthening social ties. Mobile phones may also help women overcome physical boundaries, especially in places where they are separated from support networks and are bound within their husbands’ social spheres. Using micro-level data on women and men from recent Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) including new information on mobile-phone ownership, this study examines whether individual ownership of mobile phones is associated with the likelihood of women experiencing intimate partner violence (IPV) across ten low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Findings show that women’s ownership of mobile phones is associated with a 9-12 percent decrease in the likelihood of experiencing emotional, physical, and sexual violence over the previous 12 months, even after controlling for a host of characteristics proxying for socioeconomic status, household resources, and local development within the community. Estimates are negative in seven out of the 10 countries and results robust to the use of non-parametric matching techniques and instrumental variables built through geo-referenced ancillary sources. Exploring two potential mechanisms, I show that mobile-phone ownership is positively associated with women’s decision-making power within the household (decision-making power) and less acceptability of IPV on the part of male partners (attitudes). Findings speak to scholars and policymakers interested in how technology diffusion relates to dynamics of women’s empowerment and global development.


mobile phones, intimate partner violence, digital revolution, women’s status, Demographic and Health Surveys, low- and middle-income countries



Date Posted: 30 August 2021