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Sharing the Burden of Disease: Gender, the Household Division of Labor and the Health Effects of Indoor Air Pollution


  • Mark M. Pitt
  • Mark R. Rosenzweig
  • Md. Nazmul Hassan


In many rural areas of low-income countries, biomass fuel is the principal source of household energy, meaning that indoor air pollution (IAP) is a serious health problem. If exposure to IAP is greatest in areas where combustion occurs, primarily the kitchen, IAP will mostly affect the women who cook and the children whom they supervise. Using a 2000-2003 survey of 1638 rural households in Bangladesh, where biomass fuel provides more than 90 percent of household energy, we investigate (i) the extent to which the division of household responsibilities, household structure, and dimensions and location of kitchen facilities causally affect the health of women and children, taking into account optimizing behavior within households, and (ii) whether households act as if they are optimally sharing the burden of a disease. The results suggest that proximity to stoves adversely affects the respiratory health of women and the young children they supervise and that households appear to be aware of and attempt to mitigate the health effects of cooking with biomass fuels in their time allocation decisions, including effects on young children, such that women with lower endowed health have greater exposure to smoke and women with very young children have less exposure to pollutants. We also find, however, that due to measurement error, conventional estimates of the impact of smoke inhalation are underestimated substantially. Finally, our results suggest that improving ventilation by increasing the permeability of roofs or walls has no significant effect on health, consistent with prior studies examining point-source pollutants and health data.

Suggested Citation

  • Mark M. Pitt & Mark R. Rosenzweig & Md. Nazmul Hassan, 2005. "Sharing the Burden of Disease: Gender, the Household Division of Labor and the Health Effects of Indoor Air Pollution," CID Working Papers 119, Center for International Development at Harvard University.
  • Handle: RePEc:cid:wpfacu:119

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. John Strauss & Duncan Thomas, 1998. "Health, Nutrition, and Economic Development," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 36(2), pages 766-817, June.
    2. Dasgupt, Susmita & Huq, Mainul & Khaliquzzaman, M. & Pandey, Kiran & Wheeler, David, 2004. "Who suffers from indoor air pollution? evidence from Bangladesh," Policy Research Working Paper Series 3428, The World Bank.
    3. Ezzati, Majid & Kammen, Daniel, 2002. "The Health Impacts of Exposure to Indoor Air Pollution from Solid Fuels in Developing Countries: Knowledge, Gaps, and Data Needs," Discussion Papers dp-02-24, Resources For the Future.
    4. Biswas, Wahidul K. & Lucas, N.J.D., 1997. "Energy consumption in the domestic sector in a Bangladesh village," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 22(8), pages 771-776.
    5. Robert E. Evenson, 1978. "Time Allocation in Rural Philippine Households," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 60(2), pages 322-330.
    6. Pitt, Mark M & Rosenzweig, Mark R & Hassan, Md Nazmul, 1990. "Productivity, Health, and Inequality in the Intrahousehold Distribution of Food in Low-Income Countries," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(5), pages 1139-1156, December.
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    More about this item


    health; gender; pollution;

    JEL classification:

    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • O12 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Microeconomic Analyses of Economic Development


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