Inheritance Customs and Agricultural Investment

    1. Study Information


      This section discusses the 2017 article by Brian Dillon and Alessandra Voena “Inheritance Customs and Agricultural Investment.”1

      The primary household data for this paper came from the 2008 Rural Income and Livelihoods Survey undertaken by the Food Security Research Project of Michigan State University (MSU) and the Central Statistical Office (CSO) of Zambia. The data set includes a wide variety of standard agricultural, economic, and demographic information at the plot, household, and community levels. In 2008, the MSU and CSO teams conducted a separate survey with 1,043 village chiefs (“headmen”) in the study area. The headmen survey covered a range of village characteristics, including norms regarding inheritance, distances to trading centers, business activities, access to government extension and input subsidization programs, trends in community well-being, and others.

      The household data contains information for 8,094 households. After dropping households with no agricultural activities or those missing key variables, the data set was 7,770 households. The study looked at investment on plots governed by the customary system. For most specifications the study focused on the 5,803 households that are led by a married couple, because, according to the conceptual framework, the widow inheritance policy can only be expected to influence these households.

    2. Questions posed
      • Does the threat of land expropriation upon widowhood deter households from fallowing, applying fertilizer, and employing labor intensive tillage techniques?
    3. Description of intervention

      No specific intervention. Study was done based on the various customs related to inheritance.

    4. Context of findings

      Governed by customary law, in some villages the death of a male household head leads to a one-third reduction in the land area cultivated by the widow’s household, and approximately 15% of households are headed by widows.

    5. Key findings

      Across a variety of specifications there was strong evidence of lower land investment in areas where widows do not inherit. Couples in non-widow-inheritance villages apply 13–18% less fertilizer, fallow 4–5% less land area, and use intensive tillage techniques on 3–5% fewer acres, relative to the averages among households with positive levels of each activity. (Those figures are 37–50% for fertilizer, 12–16% for fallowing, and 7–11% for intensive tillage if the baseline is against all households, including the zeroes).

      Investment is highest when the widow inherits, lower when someone in her family inherits, and lowest when the land reverts to the chief or another family member.

      Women’s concern over a possible loss of land reduces their investments in land quality even when their husbands are alive.

    1. Dillon, B., & Voena, A. (2017) Inheritance Customs and Agricultural Investment (January 18, 2017).