DP6111 Descent Rules and Strategic Transfers. Evidence from Matrilineal Groups in Ghana

Author(s): Eliana La Ferrara
Publication Date: February 2007
Keyword(s): inter-vivos transfers, matrilineal inheritance, social norms, strategic bequests
JEL(s): O16, O17
Programme Areas: Public Economics, Development Economics
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=6111

Traditional descent systems can roughly be divided into patrilineal and matrilineal. In the latter, a man?s heir is not his own child but rather his sister?s son. The paper examines the implications of this social norm for the pattern of inter-vivos transfers using household level data from rural Ghana, where the largest ethnic group is traditionally matrilineal. In particular, it tests the predictions of a model of strategic behaviour according to which children should respond to the threat of disinheritance by increasing transfers to their parents during lifetime to induce a donation of land before the default (matrilineal) inheritance is enforced. I find that the credibility of customary norms enforcement, as proxied by the presence of a nephew in the father?s household, significantly increases the probability of receiving transfers from children for Akans but not for other groups. The effect is specific to nephews and not to other co-resident boys. This pattern of behaviour can affect asset accumulation decisions across generations.