October 30, 2015
News /
Posted by NCID

“Land reform policy needs to account for pre-existing gender differences in rights to land inheritance and ownership”, said Abhishek Chakravarty, Assistant Profesor at the University of Essex. Chakravarty visited the University of Navarra to present his paper titled “Property Rights and Gender Bias: Evidence from Land Reform in West Bengal”.

His research, carried out jointly with Sonia Bhalotra (University of Essex), Dilip Mookherjee (Boston University), and, Francisco J. Pino (University of Chile), studied how the formalization of land rights raises productivity, but may have important consequences in gender inequality. The project used two independent datasets from West Bengal India analyzing the effect that a land reform implemented in late 70’s, early 80’s had on infant survival of either gender. 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 a greater son-bias for diverse cultural reasons.

Summarizing the practical meaning of their findings, Chakravarty say the results “provide compelling evidence that gender bias in property rights may lead their formalization 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”.


What was the main motivation to research on land reformation and gender bias in West Bengal?

Property rights formalization is considered a key part of the development process, but the gender implications of strengthening property rights in countries where women traditionally have fewer rights to property than men have generally not been studied in the academic literature. This is of particular salience in the case of agricultural land, as a significant fraction of people in developing countries often derive their livelihoods from agriculture. Hence land reform can in fact widen existing gender inequalities in welfare outcomes such as health, if institutional biases against women in rights to land are not taken into account in the property rights formalization process. This makes the gender impact of land reform an important area of research.


What are the advantages of using two data sets in this research?

Each dataset has its advantages. The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) data collects detailed fertility histories from interviewed women, which allows us to examine the impacts of land reform at the level of the individual child by gender, birth order, the gender of the oldest child in the family, and exposure to land reform when combined with district-level data on reform intensity. The village dataset contains detailed information on reform implementation at the level of the village, as well as immigration and land ownership histories for interviewed households that allow us to examine reform impacts at a highly disaggregated regional level and for different categories of households by land holdings and immigration status.


Before passing a land reform policy, policy makers should have discussions on how that law could impact gender inequality, how should this be done?

Land reform policy needs to account for pre-existing gender differences in rights to land inheritance and ownership. Furthermore, the roots of such differences need to be dealt with as part of a broader development agenda. This is especially important if these roots lie in cultural institutions that prove persistent even as developing countries experience economic growth and rising incomes for both men and women.


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