Access to electricity is often considered a key precondition for economic and social development. This is particularly true for Sub-Saharan Africa, where around 570 million people had no electricity access by 2019 (United Nations, 2021). Unfortunately, however, existing research has yielded mixed and even contradictory results on how electrification changes people’s lives at the level of households (Lee et al, 2020). In addition, Peters and Siefert (2017) argue that the abundant evidence from electrification programmes in Latin America or Asia is not easily transferrable to the very particular context of Sub-Saharan Africa. This project relies on high-quality panel data to evaluate how a major electrification programme changed household-level outcomes in Ethiopia.
To reconstruct the rollout of the programme and define which villages were electrified in what period, the researcher combine various geo-coded data sources, including nightlight data, survey data, and information retrieved from local institutions. Assuming that the exact timing of electrification is exogenous, they compare how age-specific outcomes change across cohorts in villages that are versus are not newly connected to the electricity grid (cohort-based differences-in-differences design). With respect to household-level outcomes, high-quality data from the Young Lives Surveys provide the researcher with a holistic picture of households' and especially children's lives. Amongst others, the dataset records household members' time use, educational outcomes, labour markets participation, and ambitions. When empirically evaluating outcomes of individual household members, the researcher takes into account the fact that their decisions are most likely interdependent and dependent on the households’ composition. To assess the importance of hypothesised mechanisms, they supplement the quantitative analysis through qualitative data collected in rural Ethiopia through individual interviews and focus group discussions.
Given that electrification programmes are costly and time-intensive, careful evaluations of the latter are crucial for policymakers. In particular, the findings are relevant for identifying and designing complementary programmes and public infrastructure investments (e.g. facilitating electric mills or water pumps, or improving health, education, or telecommunication services). The results obtained in the context of Ethiopia, the second most populous country in Africa, can not only be informative for the ongoing electrification efforts there, but also in the context of other African countries.