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 greater support from 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. 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. Using a principal-agent framework with domestic violence to model spousal interactions, I show that matrilineal kinship may decrease spousal cooperation if it improves a woman’s outside option, increases the cost of domestic violence, or increases the return to investment in children. Consistent with this model, children of matrilineal women are healthier and better educated and matrilineal women experience less domestic violence. The results highlight how household outcomes are tied to broader social structures.
Media: World Bank Blog Post