Empowering Women? Inheritance Rights, Female Education and Dowry Payments in India

    1. Study Information


      This section discusses the 2015 article by Sanchari Roy, “Empowering women? Inheritance rights, female education and dowry payments in India.”1

      This study looks at whether the changes in the Hindu Succession Act 1956 (HSA) that gave daughters and sons equal rights to ancestral land increased the number of daughters inheriting land or increased resources that went to daughter’s education and/or dowry. The earliest attempts at amending the HSA were made by five Indian states, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra, between the late 1970s and early 1990s. The study uses the 1999 wave of the Rural Economic and Demographic Survey (REDS), which is a representative survey of rural households in the 17 major states of India. The REDS 99 contains detailed retrospective information on individual characteristics of all members of the household, including daughters who have married and left the household, provided by the household head. The sample is comprised of daughters who were at least 22 years old at survey and whose mothers were at least 44 years old at survey in landed, Hindu households (4207 women). The study identifies the causal impact of the inheritance reform by using a triple differences methodology that exploits variation in women’s state of birth, year of birth, and timing of grandfather’s death.

    2. Questions posed
      • What is the impact of gender-progressive reforms to the inheritance law in India on women's outcomes?
    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 to 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 postulates that the changes in the inheritance law may have improved daughters’ situation by providing daughters with an alternative asset to land, namely more education or paying a higher dowry. However, dowry payments are not under the control of the daughter but rather of her husband and his parents, thus does not provide daughters with their own asset.

    5. Key findings

      In contrast to the earlier study (Deininger, et al, 2013) Roy found that the reform failed to increase the actual likelihood of women inheriting property. Instead, parents appeared to be gifting their share of land to their sons in order to circumvent the law. However, parents also appeared to be compensating their daughters for such disinheritance by giving them alternative transfers in the form of either higher dowries or more education following the reform.

    1. Roy, S. (2015). Empowering women? Inheritance rights, female education and dowry payments in India. Journal of Development Economics 114: 233-51.