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Irrigation and Culture: Gender Roles and Women’s Rights

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  • Fredriksson, Per G.
  • Gupta, Satyendra Kumar

Abstract

This paper proposes that ancestral use of irrigation reduces contemporary female labor force participation and female property rights. We test this hypothesis using an exogenous measure of irrigation and data from the Afrobarometer, cross-country data, the European Social Survey, the American Community Survey, and the India Demographic and Household Survey. Our hypothesis receives considerable empirical support. We find negative associations between ancestral irrigation and actual female labor force participation, and attitudes to such participation, in contemporary African and Indian populations, 2nd generation European immigrants, 1.5 and 2nd generation US immigrants, and in cross-country data. Moreover, ancestral irrigation is negatively associated with attitudes to female property rights in Africa and with measures of such rights across countries. Our estimates are robust to a host of control variables and alternative specifications. We propose multiple potential partial mechanisms. First, in pre-modern societies the men captured technologies complementary to irrigation, raising their relative productivity. Fertility increased. This caused lower female participation in agriculture and subsistence activities, and the women worked closer to home. Next, due to the common pool nature of irrigation water, historically irrigation has involved more frequent warfare. This raised the social status of men and restricted women's movement. These two mechanisms have produced cultural preferences against female participation in the formal labor market. Finally, irrigation produced both autocracy and a culture of collectivism. These are both associated with weaker female property rights.

Suggested Citation

  • Fredriksson, Per G. & Gupta, Satyendra Kumar, 2020. "Irrigation and Culture: Gender Roles and Women’s Rights," GLO Discussion Paper Series 681, Global Labor Organization (GLO).
  • Handle: RePEc:zbw:glodps:681
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Irrigation; agriculture; culture; gender; norms; labor force participation; property rights;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination
    • J21 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Labor Force and Employment, Size, and Structure
    • N50 - Economic History - - Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment and Extractive Industries - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • O10 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - General
    • P14 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems - - - Property Rights
    • Q15 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Land Ownership and Tenure; Land Reform; Land Use; Irrigation; Agriculture and Environment
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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