Discussion Paper Details

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Title: Women's Rights and Development

Author(s): Raquel FernŠndez

Publication Date: September 2009

Keyword(s): development, fertility, legal system, property rights and women's rights

Programme Area(s): Development Economics, International Macroeconomics and Public Economics

Abstract: Why has the expansion of women's economic and political rights coincided with economic development? This paper investigates this question, focusing on a key economic right for women: property rights. The basic hypothesis is that the process of development (i.e., capital accumulation and declining fertility) exacerbated the tension in men's conflicting interests as husbands versus fathers, ultimately resolving them in favor of the latter. As husbands, men stood to gain from their privileged position in a patriarchal world whereas, as fathers, they were hurt by a system that afforded few rights to their daughters. The model predicts that declining fertility would hasten reform of women's property rights whereas legal systems that were initially more favorable to women would delay them. The theoretical relationship between capital and the relative attractiveness of reform is non-monotonic but growth inevitably leads to reform. I explore the empirical validity of the theoretical predictions by using cross-state variation in the US in the timing of married women obtaining property and earning rights between 1850 and 1920.

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Bibliographic Reference

FernŠndez, R. 2009. 'Women's Rights and Development'. London, Centre for Economic Policy Research.