Human Capital Accumulation and the Expansion of Women's Property Rights
42 Pages Posted: 8 Apr 2008
Most U.S. states passed married women's property and earnings acts between 1850 and 1920. These acts gave married women the right to own and control their separate property, and to own their market earnings. We examine the acts' effects on investment by families in girls' human capital. Standard approaches to the economics of property rights imply that, as married women gain the right to their earnings and to own and control property, the incentive to invest in women's and girls' human capital will rise. This will be observed through increases in the rates of girls' schooling relative to boys'. We posit that a state's passage of a married women's property act and earnings act will lead to an increase in women's (girls') school attendance relative to boys. We use state level census data on school attendance to test for these effects, examining the difference in schooling rates for girls and boys. Our empirical analysis indicates that this expansion of women's economic rights resulted in higher rates of relative school attendance by girls, and that the effects of earnings acts are larger than those of the property acts. We also find that the effect of strengthening married women's property rights is substantially stronger in common law states than in community property states. These findings are robust to several ways of controlling for the possible endogeneity of changes in women's property rights.
Keywords: women's property rights, earnings acts, human capital, married women's property acts
JEL Classification: K00, K11, K12
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