Kinship Systems, Gender Norms, and Household Bargaining: Evidence from the Matrilineal Belt

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I examine how broader social structures – in particular, kinship systems – affect intra-household bargaining. In matrilineal kinship systems, lineage and inheritance are traced through female members.  I test the predictions of the “matrilineal puzzle,” the hypothesis that matrilineal kinship systems decrease spousal cooperation relative to patrilineal systems by creating split allegiances between spouses and by reducing a husband's authority over his wife. I use experimental and physiological measures and a geographic regression discontinuity design along the “matrilineal belt” in Africa to test for greater discord between matrilineal couples. I show that individuals from matrilineal ethnic groups cooperate less with their spouses in a lab game and experience greater stress during game play. Despite less spousal cooperation, I find that children of matrilineal women are healthier and better educated. I explore the channels through which matrilineal kinship systems affect cooperation. First, due to split allegiances between spouses, matrilineal individuals are less altruistic towards their spouse. Second, matrilineal women have greater bargaining power and can therefore cooperate less with their husband without fear of reprisal. The results highlight how broader social structures can affect the bargaining process within the household. Additionally, at relatively low levels of women's empowerment, there may be a trade off between increasing women's bargaining power and household efficiency. 


Media: World Bank Blog Post

Last updated on 03/12/2017