Why does female genital cutting (FGC) persist in certain places while has declined elsewhere? Using survey data from the Gambia, we study an important aspect of the persistence of FGC, namely the relationship between (i) whether a woman has undergone FGC and (ii) her support for the practice. Our data exhibit sufficient intrahousehold variation in both FGC status and in support for the practice to allow controlling for unobserved heterogeneity between households. First, our results suggest that a woman who has undergone FGC 40 percentage points more likely to be in favor of the practice, from a baseline likelihood of 40%. Second, our findings indicate that 85% of the relationship between whether a woman has undergone FGC and her support for the practice can be attributed to individual- or household-level factors, but that only 15% of that relationship can be explained by factors at the village level or beyond. This suggests that village-wide pledges against FGC, though they have worked well in neighboring Senegal, are unlikely to be effective in the Gambia. Rather, policies aimed at eliminating FGC in this context should instead target individuals and households if they are to be effective.
That’s the abstract of my most recent working paper (see here for the RepEc version, and here for the SSRN version), “All in the Family: Explaining the Persistence of Female Genital Cutting in The Gambia,” which my former Masters student Tara Steinmetz (who was a Peace Corps volunteer in The Gambia) and I have been working on for quite some time. A previous version had been circulated for the Midwest International Economic Development Conference, but this one is considerably improved. As with any working paper, the caveat that these results have not yet been through the peer-review process applies. Continue reading →