Soft Skills for Hard Constraints: Evidence from High-Achieving Female Farmers

WB Working Paper

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This paper documents the positive link between the noncognitive skills of women farmers and the adoption of a cash crop. The context is Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world, where the majority of rural households practice subsistence farming. The analysis finds that a one standard deviation increase in noncognitive ability related to perseverance is associated with a five percentage point (or 33 percent) increase in the probability of adoption of the main cash crop. This link is not explained by differences across women in education and cognitive skills. It is also not explained by the fact that women with higher noncognitive ability tend to be married to husbands of higher noncognitive ability and education. The effect of female noncognitive skills on adoption is concentrated in patrilocal communities, where women face greater adversity and thus where it would be expected that the returns to such skills would be highest. One main channel through which noncognitive skills seem to work is through the use of productive inputs, including higher levels of labor, fertilizer, and agricultural advice services.


  • Joao Montalvao
  • Michael Frese
  • Markus Goldstein
  • Talip Kilic