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The Wealth Of Cape Colony Widows: Inheritance Laws And Investment Responses Following Male Death In The 17th And 18th Centuries

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  • Dieter von Fintel
  • Sophia Du Plessis
  • Ada Jansen

Abstract

Losing a household member is usually negatively associated with welfare, especially if that person is a breadwinner. Coping methods include disposal of assets to generate cash flow, while other households increase their labour supply. This paper considers a specific case in a pre-industrial society, presenting evidence where male mortality was associated with distinct benefits for widows. In the Cape Colony (during the Dutch East India Company occupation), Roman Dutch inheritance laws favoured widows, who were then able to set up households independently of their children. Their sizable inheritances (relative to other heirs) enabled investment in production assets with otherwise prohibitively high fixed costs (in particularly slave labour and vineyards) and resulted in divestment from other non-productive assets. While the mortality shock would presumably have had negative impacts on income and subsistence crop levels, this was not the case in the Cape: instead, reconstructed asset portfolios set widows up for productive, slave intensive farming and subsequent status and affluence.

Suggested Citation

  • Dieter von Fintel & Sophia Du Plessis & Ada Jansen, 2013. "The Wealth Of Cape Colony Widows: Inheritance Laws And Investment Responses Following Male Death In The 17th And 18th Centuries," Economic History of Developing Regions, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 28(1), pages 87-108, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:rehdxx:v:28:y:2013:i:1:p:87-108
    DOI: 10.1080/20780389.2013.805512
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    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1080/20780389.2013.805512
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Bruce Sacerdote, 2005. "Slavery and the Intergenerational Transmission of Human Capital," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 87(2), pages 217-234, May.
    2. Andrei Shleifer & Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes & Rafael La Porta, 2008. "The Economic Consequences of Legal Origins," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 46(2), pages 285-332, June.
    3. Sophia Du Plessis, Ada Jansen and Dieter von Fintel, 2013. "Slave Prices and Productivity in the 18th Century at the Cape of Good Hope: The Winners and Losers from the Trade," Working Papers 385, Economic Research Southern Africa.
    4. Johan Fourie & Dieter von Fintel, 2010. "A History with Evidence: Income inequality in the Dutch Cape Colony," Working Papers 23/2010, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    5. Johan Fourie & Dieter von Fintel, 2010. "The dynamics of inequality in a newly settled, pre-industrial society: the case of the Cape Colony," Cliometrica, Journal of Historical Economics and Econometric History, Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC), vol. 4(3), pages 229-267, October.
    6. Stefan Dercon, 2002. "Income Risk, Coping Strategies, and Safety Nets," World Bank Research Observer, World Bank Group, vol. 17(2), pages 141-166, September.
    7. Michael Grimm, 2010. "Mortality Shocks and Survivors’ Consumption Growth," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 72(2), pages 146-171, April.
    8. Wayne Twine & Lori Mae Hunter, 2011. "Adult mortality and household food security in rural South Africa: Does AIDS represent a unique mortality shock?," Development Southern Africa, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 28(4), pages 431-444, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. Auke Rijpma & Jeanne Cilliers & Johan Fourie, 2020. "Record linkage in the Cape of Good Hope Panel," Historical Methods: A Journal of Quantitative and Interdisciplinary History, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 53(2), pages 112-129, April.

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