Authors: Sonia Bhalotra (University of Essex), Abhishek Chakravarty (University of Essex), Dilip Mookherjee (Boston University), and Francisco J. Pino (University of Chile)
Abstract: There is growing evidence that the formalization of land rights raises productivity and lowers poverty, but limited recognition of its potential impact on gender inequality in communities where men have stronger property rights than women. Using two independent datasets, we document male-biased fertility stopping and infant survival improvements flowing from land reforms in the Indian state of West Bengal that awarded sharecroppers heritable tenancy rights to land. The reform increased child survival in both Hindu and Non-Hindu families, but the relative deterioration of girl survival after the reform occurs only in Hindu families, who have traditionally greater son-bias. We further show that after the reforms, Hindu families lose more land as marital dowry at the time of their daughters’ marriages, indicating that cultural practices such as patrilocality are the primary cause for the increased gender gap in mortality in these families. Our results provide compelling evidence that gender bias in property rights may lead their formalisation to also widen gender inequalities in health, despite consequent substantial increases in income, if underlying institutional norms governing dowry and land bequests are not accounted for.