I examine how kinship systems affect spousal cooperation. In matrilineal kinship systems, lineage and inheritance are traced through female members. The structure of matrilineal kinship systems implies that, relative to patrilineal kinship systems, women have stronger affiliations with their own kin groups, and husbands have less authority over their wives. I use experimental and physiological measures and a geographic regression discontinuity design along the “matrilineal belt” in Africa to test how kinship systems affect spousal cooperation. I show that men and women from matrilineal ethnic groups cooperate less with their spouses in a lab experiment and experience greater stress during game play. This is not the case when paired with a stranger of the opposite sex. Despite less spousal cooperation, I find that children of matrilineal women are healthier and better educated and that matrilineal women experience less domestic violence. The results highlight how broader social structures affect bargaining within the household.
Media: World Bank Blog Post