Gender Differences in the Effects of Vocational Training: Constraints on Women and Drop-Out Behavior

Women are more constrained by family obligations, distance, and illness, affecting their participation and resulting in higher dropout rates from vocational training programs.


Job training programs have been recognized as effective policy tools to provide youth with marketable labor market skills. In Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, vocational and entrepreneurial training is even more important given that over 80 percent of the population is self-employed in small business and household enterprises. This intervention paired youths aged 15-24 from 28 districts in Malawi with Master Craftspeople in a vocational and entrepreneurial youth training program and examined the determinants and consequences for dropouts.


After implementing the intervention, they found more women were dropping out than men. Examining that gender difference further, researchers found:

  • Women were more likely to cite family commitments, marriage or transportation challenges as the reason for not enrolling in the program.  Similarly, women were more likely to drop out of the program if they lived further from the training center or if they became sick or injured.
  • The stipend provided by the program was not sufficient to cover transportation and housing costs during the apprenticeship. There was evidence that many women drew upon their savings to cover the additional costs, leading to further financial constraints for them.
  • Men were more likely to receive financial support from their trainers and women who were recently fired from a job were more likely to complete the program.
  • After the completion of the apprenticeship women were less likely than men to start a business, possibly due to the increased financial constraints felt by women who participated in the program.
  • While improvements in self-reported skills were similar across genders, male trainees exhibited greater improvements in subjective measures of well-being and confidence.

In short, even if women wanted to attend the training program, they were less able to do so than men. For women, vocational training programs are more expensive, less supportive, and not as effective as for their male counterparts.


The study randomly assigns 1,900 youths aged 15-24 from 28 districts in Malawi to receive on-the-job training. The program was phased in overtime with the treatment group starting training immediately, and the control group starting approximately 4 months later. Results from the follow-up survey with both groups were used to compare outcomes between the treatment and control groups at that point (since the control group had not yet entered the program). The training program involved placement of young people as apprentices of master craftspeople (MC). MCs were selected from a pool based on their expertise and business performance. A total of 164 MCs were selected, from 17 different trades. Training modules were created for each trade. During the apprenticeship, MCs trained between one and eight trainees at their workshops for a period of three months on average. Because most of the MCs were located in urban areas, trainees were provided with a small stipend to cover expenses related to food and accommodation.

Data was collected in March-April 2010 among a random subset of the original sample. A total of 1,122 individuals were surveyed. During the follow-up survey in June-August 2011, 1,029 respondents were interviewed.

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