Relative Deprivation and Energy Poverty: When Does Unequal Access to Electricity Cause Dissatisfaction?


International Journal of Energy Research

In the least developed countries, unequal access to infrastructure is a major form of inequality. We examine the conditions under which unequal electricity access causes dissatisfaction. The question is important because grievances could prompt demands for policy change. We argue that feelings of relative deprivation both cause dissatisfaction and create hope for improvement. Empirically, we analyze household survey data from five East African countries. All else constant, households living close to a power line are less satisfied with their lighting solution but also have more hope for improvement. Because household lighting is the most important use for electricity in a poor household, this supports the relative deprivation hypothesis. Households that are reminded of their deprivation by the power line are both less satisfied and believe something can be done to solve the problem. To inform policy, we also show that the proximity of a power line decreases the household’s interest in solar home systems as an alternative to grid electrification, whereas valuation for solar lanterns seems to be increasing.