Keeping It in the Family: Female Inheritance, Inmarriage, and the Status of Women

73 Pages Posted: 18 Sep 2018 Last revised: 7 Apr 2019

Date Written: March 20, 2019


While female property ownership is associated with positive outcomes for women, their right to inherit property in male-dominated societies may also result in more constraining marriage and gender norms. I develop and test the following hypothesis: Where a woman inherits property, her male relatives are more likely to arrange her marriage to a cousin in order to avoid fragmentation of the family land. Arranging the marriage also requires controlling the woman’s premarital relations, which negatively impacts her participation in society. By analyzing datasets on pre-industrial societies and Indonesian individuals, I find that female inheritance is associated with a higher prevalence of cousin and arranged marriages as well as lower female economic participation and premarital sexual freedom. Using a difference-in-differences design that exploits exogenous variation induced by a reform of inheritance laws in India, I also provide evidence for a causal effect of female inheritance on cousin marriage and female premarital sex rates. These findings have implications for the evolution of marriage and gender norms in Islamic societies, where female inheritance is mandated by Islamic law.

Keywords: female inheritance, culture, religion, gender inequality, marriage customs, kinship

JEL Classification: D01, J12, J16, N30, Z12, Z13

Suggested Citation

Bahrami-Rad, Duman, Keeping It in the Family: Female Inheritance, Inmarriage, and the Status of Women (March 20, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Duman Bahrami-Rad (Contact Author)

Harvard University ( email )

11 Divinity Avenue
Culture, Cognition, and Coevolution Lab
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
(617) 384-8641 (Phone)


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