Health information leads to…cheating!

Well, this is disappointing. A recent study in Uganda supported by Google and the Grameen Foundation, and implemented by Innovations for Poverty Action, has found a way to…increase infidelity.

When provided with information about sexually transmitted diseases via text messaging, cheating among participants more than doubled. Why?

Although the study and its findings have yet to be published, Bloomberg reports:

With the program in Uganda, which began in 2009, infidelity may have risen as women became more aware of the risks of cheating and insisted on going for testing with their husbands, said study author Dean Karlan, an economics professor at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Some men resisted, leading women to deny them sex, which the men then sought from other women, Karlan said.

Basically, it appears that women wanted safer sex, while many men did not.

At first, this struck me as a classic case of unintended consequences, of good intentions paving the proverbial road to hell. However, having finished tearing my hair out (actually, gunning it through Ntinda wondering, what is wrong with these men?!), I realized we have actually learned something important despite the perverse effects of this intervention. Two things, actually. 1) men and women have different preferences regarding safe sex, and 2) women are willing and able to stand up for and protect themselves, at least in Uganda.

Now we need to understand why, faced with the same information as women, men made choices that did not improve their health and did not reduce their risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. We also need to find ways to support women to protect themselves and their families.

Looking forward to reading the paper; will update accordingly.

UPDATE: Ungated version of the working paper available here.

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