Changes in India's Property Rights Regime and the Implications for Improved Gender Parity: Evidence from Regression Discontinuity Analysis of Panel Data for 17 Indian States

36 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 13 Oct 2010

See all articles by Rachel Brule

Rachel Brule

Stanford University - Department of Political Science

Date Written: 2010


In India, where rigid social norms limit women's autonomy, attempts to legislate equal rights are rarely successful. Moreover, limited data on the interaction of legal implementation and socio-economic structures makes it nearly impossible to measure the direct effect of progressive law and its indirect effect on attitudes and welfare. This paper uses regression discontinuity design to capture the effect of a law implemented at exogenous points in time across India – the Hindu Succession Amendment Act - which equalized women’s inheritance rights. Additional regression analysis allows measurement of legal reform’s indirect effect on women’s welfare. Analysis is based on two forms of data: (1) Nationally representative panel data collected across 17 Indian states from 1971 until 2006/8 by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER)’s Rural Economic and Demographic Survey (REDS), and (2) Qualitative field research based on interviews with 850 women and their husbands in two districts of Andhra Pradesh to identify appropriate causal hypotheses and interpret the results of quantitative analysis.

Whereas elite capture theory suggests legal reform of women’s traditionally-weak inheritance rights should be ineffective, preliminary findings suggest the law is effective in increasing women’s perceived ownership of household land, women’s self-reported bargaining power in the household, and women’s probability of inheriting land. The law has a very limited substantive impact on the equality of women’s land shares, but a significant welfare impact: households with an HSAA beneficiary spend more on women’s goods, medical care, and children’s education. As expected by norm-based theories of legal effectiveness, household norms are significant predictors of women’s probability of inheriting land as well as the equality of women’s land shares. However, norms’ effect runs counter to theoretical predictions: parents who support conservative norms of (son’s) care of elderly parents are significantly more likely than other parents to give daughters land and to equalize daughters land shares. Parents who maintain illiberal norms that restrict daughter’s decision-making power are more likely to give land inheritance to all children. However, elite capture theory does explain an important finding: where women organize their own interest groups, they are more likely to benefit from the HSAA. We can conclude that progressive law significantly improves women’s property rights and welfare, but its effectiveness is maximized by either working in tandem with conservative social norms, or by generating new social networks to circumvent conservative norms.

Keywords: Property Rights, Legal Reform, Women's Empowerment, Elite Capture, Norms, Entitlement, Development

JEL Classification: D63, J16, J71, J78, K11, K42, N45, N55, O12, O17, O53, Q15, R20, Z10

Suggested Citation

Brule, Rachel, Changes in India's Property Rights Regime and the Implications for Improved Gender Parity: Evidence from Regression Discontinuity Analysis of Panel Data for 17 Indian States (2010). APSA 2010 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Rachel Brule (Contact Author)

Stanford University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

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