All in the family: Explaining the persistence of female genital cutting in West Africa

Marc F. Bellemare, Lindsey Novak, Tara L. Steinmetz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Why does female genital cutting (FGC) persist in certain places but has declined elsewhere? We study the persistence of FGC-proxied for by whether survey respondents are in favor of the practice continuing-in West Africa. We use 38 repeated cross-sectional country-year data sets covering 310,613 women aged 15 to 49 in 13 West African countries for the period 1995-2013. The data exhibit sufficient within-household variation to allow controlling for the unobserved heterogeneity between households, which in turn allows determining how much variation is due to factors at the levels of the individual, household, village, and beyond. Our results show that on average, 87% of the variation in FGC persistence can be attributed to household- and individual-level factors, with contributions from those levels of variation ranging from 71% in Nigeria in 2011 to 93% in Burkina Faso in 2006. Our results also suggest that once invariant factors across women aged 15 to 49 in the same household are accounted for, women who report having undergone FGC in West Africa are on average 16 percentage points more likely to be in favor of the practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)252-265
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Development Economics
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier B.V.


  • Female genital cutting
  • Female genital mutilation
  • Sexual and reproductive health
  • West Africa


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