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Dr. Sara Lowes joins us from the University of Bocconi to discuss how matrilineal kinship systems affect spousal cooperation and household welfare in Central Africa. Come along for an insightful discussion at the intersection of development economics and political economy.

About the Speaker: 

Sara Lowes is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Bocconi University and a CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar. She graduated in May 2017 from Harvard University with a PhD from the Political Economy and Government program and from Middlebury College in 2007 with a BA in Economics and Political Science. Her research interests are at the intersection of development economics, political economy, and economic history. Her recent work is in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where she examines the effects of historical extraction on present day local institutions and culture and how kinship structure affects outcomes for women and children. Other work on Central Africa examines how colonial experiences affect present day trust in modern medicine

About the Talk:

I examine how kinship systems affect spousal cooperation. In matrilineal kinship systems, lineage and inheritance are traced through female members. The structure of matrilineal kinship systems implies that, relative to patrilineal kinship systems, women have greater support from their own kin groups, and husbands have less authority over their wives. I use experimental and physiological measures and a geographic regression discontinuity design along the “matrilineal belt” in Africa to test how kinship systems affect spousal cooperation. Men and women from matrilineal ethnic groups cooperate less with their spouses in a lab experiment and experience greater stress during game play. This is not the case when paired with a stranger of the opposite sex. Using a principal-agent framework with domestic violence to model spousal interactions, I show that matrilineal kinship may decrease spousal cooperation if it improves a woman’s outside option, increases the cost of domestic violence, or increases the return to investment in children. Consistent with this model, children of matrilineal women are healthier and better educated, and matrilineal women experience less domestic violence. The results highlight how household outcomes are tied to broader social structures.

Download the Working Paper

Available here.