Women, men and youth and the adoption of mobile money in Kenya

March 7th, 2018

Today, mobile money has managed to penetrate over 70% of the Kenyan population, with more people claiming access to services such as Safaricom’s M-Pesa than ever before. Yet, how, and at what rate, Kenya’s population adopts new mobile money accounts and financial technologies vary across gender and age. Inclusion, while often measured as an aggregate number, is multidimensional and appears, group-by-group, as a mosaic, not a single-coloured map. As preliminary findings from a recent brief published by FSD Kenya shows, consumers have varying experiences and usage patterns as well as experiences and sentiments toward the technology.


Here are some of the report’s key highlights:

Statistically, men, women, and young adults have exhibited varying adoption rates over the last seven years. According to FinAccess Data collected in 2009 and 2016, men were the most active users. But women and young adults (both men and women aged 15-25) also exhibited revealing adoption trends:

  • Nearly 76% of Kenya’s adult male population claimed the use of mobile money accounts for a broad range of purposes (i.e. sending, receiving, saving, for business, donations, travelling, etc.). In particular, 61% claimed use for saving money, while 10-15% claimed use for business needs such as receiving wages or making and receiving payments.
  • Women were comparatively less active, with only 68% claiming use. Only 54% claimed to use mobile wallets for saving money, and only 7% claimed to receive wages via mobile money. Yet, women were more likely to use mobile money on a consistent monthly basis than their male counterparts (43% compared to 34%), possibly related to their responsibilities for managing household budgets. What is more, the overall percentage of women using mobile money increased three and half-fold between 2009 and 2016—the largest increase among any demographic subgroup.
  • Young adults averaged around the same adoption rate as women: 67%. But young adults were some of the fastest adopters of new products such as M-Shwari, a mobile banking platform launched in 2012. In addition, at 73%, young adult subscribers were found to be the most likely to use mobile wallets for savings.


Other key highlights emerged from qualitative research conducted between 2012 and 2015, to investigate men and women’s perceptions about mobile money’s integration into everyday life. Key questions included: What added value does mobile money bring to your routine? What frustrations emerge? How has mobile money changed society? What kinds of problems have emerged because of mobile money’s penetration in Kenya, broadly speaking?


Finding #1: Men, while being the highest adopters, were more likely to voice ambivalence about or resistance toward mobile money’s expansion.

Despite their higher levels of adoption and use, men were the most critical of mobile money, insofar as they saw it as increasing their household financial responsibilities. From interviews in Nairobi’s low-income communities in Mathare and Kariobangi, men said that they are continually liable to networks of dependents, including close family members and relatives as well as friends and extra-marital partners. In addition, they claimed that mobile money has made it imperative for young men to prove their earning potential before marriage through sending remittances from migrant labour.


Finding #2: Despite having slightly lower rates of adoption, women were often more positive about its overall impact.

Repeatedly, the discourse we heard from women was one of empowerment and opportunity. They did not experience the same restrictions on their autonomy as men. Women living in Nairobi’s Kibera and Kawangware estates, said that they send money to family members, relatives, and friends out of affection and care as opposed to obligation. Furthermore, they reported that mobile money has helped them strengthen networks of support and assistance among each other, often in circumvention of husbands and fathers, and has strengthened their economic independence


Finding #3 Young adults see mobile money not only a facility for inter-personal cash payments: they also perceive it as a symbol of professionalism and urban know-how.

Among young adults in Nairobi and Mombasa, as well as Central and Rift Valley Province, mobile money also played a dual role, having an economic as well as a social function. Just as young wage earners and entrepreneurs utilized mobile money for personal financial needs, so, too, did they recognize it as a symbol of creditworthiness, reliability, and technological savvy. For young adults looking to expand career opportunities and networks of support, mobile money served as an indication of reliability and professionalism.



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