Date of Graduation

Spring 5-22-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in International and Development Economics (MSIDEC)


College of Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Jesse K. Anttila-Hughes


There is widespread consensus that climate change will drive large-scale changes in poverty distributions, migration, and participation in risky informal labor markets, especially for poor households in developing countries which are both more likely to depend on the environment for their livelihood and less able to insulate against climate shocks. Within poor households, gender inequality means that women and children will bear a disproportional amount of welfare losses. I examine the impact of climate variability on migration and participation in risky informal labor markets for a particularly vulnerable population: female sex workers in India. Using a unique survey of 5,498 female sex workers from 122 origin districts, I use a proportional hazards model to test the impact of climate variability on the probability of entry into sex work in a given year. Contrary to the expected story of failed yields causing distress migration and entry into sex work, I find that favorable climate outcomes in the previous year predict entry. I present evidence that this finding is an investment effect, where women are saving up to migrate out of rural areas and enter sex work after a failed job search at the destination. I provide further evidence that contemporaneous climate variability has heterogeneous impacts by human capital level, suggesting that the most vulnerable, least educated women enter sex work due to distress migration while more educated women enter sex work after investment migration. These results suggest that policy to protect poor households from climate shocks by helping agriculture adapt may have unintended adverse consequences unless it is combined with urban formal sector job development. Because of the scarcity of data on sex workers, this paper is also among the first to examine sex work on the extensive margin.