Women’s Legal Rights and Gender Gaps in Property Ownership in Developing CountriesHema Swaminathan, Isis Gaddis and Rahul Lahoti
Journal: Population and Development Review
Women’s property ownership matters for their well-being and agency, broader economic prosperity, and children’s development. Yet, until recently, lack of data has constrained further exploration of gender differences in property ownership in the developing world. Using data from 41 developing countries, this paper seeks to fill this gap, by investigating gender gaps in the incidence of property ownership among couples and the factors associated with these gaps, focusing on the role of legal systems.
The authors find that in almost all countries husbands are more likely to own property than wives. Across countries in our sample, husbands are, on average, 2.7 times more like than wives to own property alone, and 1.4 times more likely to own property alone or jointly. Within countries, gender gaps in the incidence of property ownership are most pronounced for disadvantaged groups – i.e., the rural population and the poorest quintile. These gender gaps reflect a variety of factors, including discriminatory laws with respect to inheritance, property ownership, marital regimes, and protection from workplace discrimination. Countries with more gender egalitarian legal regimes have higher levels of property ownership by married women, especially housing, suggesting that legal reforms are a potential mechanism to increase women’s property ownership.