Keeping It in the Family: Female Inheritance, Inmarriage, and the Status of Women
FEBRUARY 21, 2019 13:30-15:00
Abstract: While female property ownership is associated with positive outcomes for women, their right to inherit property in male-dominated societies may also result in more constraining marriage and gender norms. I develop and test the following hypothesis: Where a woman inherits property, her male relatives are more likely to arrange her marriage to a cousin in order to avoid fragmentation of the family land. Arranging the marriage also requires controlling the woman’s premarital relations, which negatively impacts her participation in society. By analyzing three distinct datasets (on pre-industrial societies, Italian provinces, and Indonesian individuals), I find that female inheritance is associated with a higher prevalence of cousin and arranged marriages as well as lower female economic participation and premarital sexual freedom. Using a difference-in-differences design that exploits exogenous variation induced by a reform of inheritance laws in India, I also provide evidence for a causal effect of female inheritance on cousin marriage and female premarital sex rates. These findings have implications for the evolution of marriage and gender norms in Islamic societies, where female inheritance is mandated by Islamic law.