Gender-neutral Inheritance Laws, Family Structure, and Women’s Status in India

    1. Study Information


      This section discusses the 2017 World Bank Policy Working Paper by Sulagna Mokerjee “Gender-neutral inheritance laws, family structure, and women’s status in India”.1

      The data is from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) conducted in 2005-06, which is a large survey of representative households from all states of India (28 at the time). The survey includes a Household Schedule that provides a list of members in each household and basic socioeconomic information such as religion, caste, wealth status, and durable goods ownership. In addition, a Women’s Schedule provides the information needed to identify the treatment status—state of residence, year of marriage, and religion—for all women between the ages of 15 and 49 in each household. It also provides information on sociodemographic variables such as years of education, work status, husband’s education and occupation, and on variables denoting status within the household such as participation in own healthcare and household decision-making, and requiring permission to go somewhere or maintain contact with friends and family. The primary sample was 93,274 married women.

    2. Questions posed
      • Do formal legal inheritance rights for daughters result in increased status and bargaining power? This could take the form of increased labor force participation, increased decision-making power in the family, decreased domestic violence, decreased female child mortality, or decreased marital conflict.
    3. Description of intervention

      The intervention was a change in the Hindu Succession Act (HSA) to provide daughters and sons with equal rights to inherit ancestral property. The HSA of 1956 provided inheritance rights of ancestral property to sons only. Five states, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharastra, and Karnataka, amended this law in 1976, 1986, 1989, and 1994 to include equal inheritance rights to ancestral land for daughters. The Succession Law was amended nationally in 2005 to grant daughters equal inheritance rights to ancestral land. The law only applies to intestate succession and only applies to Hindus.

    4. Context of findings

      The study looked at the effect of the HSA Amendment (HSAA) on the extended family in the household and not only the bargaining power between one husband and one wife.

    5. Key findings

      The positive effect of the reform on women’s autonomy is achieved, to a considerable extent, through a shift in family structure from traditional joint setups to smaller nuclear households. The reform increased the likelihood of women making decisions jointly with their husbands but it might even have depressed their probability of solo decision-making. The reform of the HSA also increased the bargaining power of the husbands of the treated women; in fact, the husbands benefitted more than their wives at the expense of other household members. A significant decline in the bargaining power of these other family members hints at a possible effect of the reform on family structure itself.

    1. Mokerjee, S. (2017). Gender-neutral inheritance laws, family structure, and women's status in India. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 8017.