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Document Type

Campus-Only Access for Five (5) Years

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Economics

Year Degree Awarded

2016

Month Degree Awarded

May

First Advisor

Léonce Ndikumana

Second Advisor

Gerald Epstein

Third Advisor

James Heintz

Fourth Advisor

Lynda Pickbourn

Subject Categories

Finance | Growth and Development | Other Economics

Abstract

My dissertation explores the implications of access to microfinance for gender equity and household welfare in Ghana. The study draws on the quantitative and qualitative evidence from a unique dataset generated from a survey of 499 households, with and without access to microfinance, during my field research work in Ghana from May to July 2013.

The motivation for the dissertation derives from evidence suggesting that access to finance is an important tool for fighting poverty and reducing inequality. However, for most developing countries access to finance for the poor is mainly through the informal or the semi-formal sector, including microfinance institutions (MFIs). Microfinance is taking the center stage in developing countries as a major source of finance for the poor. The question is whether there is a risk that the conditions of the poor could be worsened through increased debt burden from access to credit from MFIs. This question is legitimate for two main reasons. First, the interest rates charged by MFIs on credit tend to be relatively higher than those charged by banks. Second, higher interest rates imply higher debt obligations for low income households with low returns on investment, which weakens their balance sheet. This is a cause of concern, especially given the lack of institutional mechanisms for households in developing countries to deal with debt distress. This situation may make it harder for households to obtain additional external financing and to sustain expenditures, thereby leading to worsening household welfare.

The evidence from this study shows that access to microfinance reduces gender asset gaps and generally improves household welfare. Further, the results suggest that debt burden beyond certain thresholds creates significant financial distress for households and reduces food expenditures while increasing the household’s credit constraints. The study shows that microfinance market, borrower-specific and household-specific characteristics are important factors explaining household indebtedness.

Using an approach that incorporates both qualitative and quantitative analysis, and by applying different econometric approaches to household welfare analysis, this dissertation contributes to the growing body of empirical literature on the impact of access to microfinance on household-level welfare. It also contributes to a relatively new area of research on borrower debt distress arising from access to microfinance.

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