Eva Tène, European University Institute
Eva Tène will present a paper titled “On the Historical Roots of Gender Norms: Evidence from Matrilineal Societies in Sub-Saharan Africa”
Abstract: This paper explores the geoclimatic origins and the long-term impact of matrilineal kinship systems, where inheritance is along the maternal line, in Sub-Saharan Africa. The analysis tests anthropological theories explaining the emergence of matrilineal societies by the prevalence of extensive hoe agriculture, where women tend to perform most agricultural work, and the absence of large domestic animals, more beneficial to men. Exploiting ethnic group variations in geoclimatic conditions, I first document that land suitability for extensive agriculture without animal husbandry explains almost 10% of the variation in kinship systems in Sub-Saharan Africa. Using country and within-country variations across 500,000 women in 25 countries, I then bring evidence that this gender-specific social institution persists over time and impact women’s socioeconomic status today. I find that matrilineal-origin women are more empowered within the traditional sphere: they contribute the most to household expenses, hold immovable assets such as land, and spend less time on domestic work. However, they have a lower status within the modern sphere: they are less educated and less likely to have a white-collar occupation.