Women in developing countries are less likely to own land than men, and among those that own land, their landholdings are worth less than men’s. Such gender inequality in land rights is a violation of human rights. Additionally, previous research finds that women’s land rights are associated with the health of women and other family members, which suggests that the health of a woman and her family members might depend on her individual land rights, and not just on the land rights of her husband or other male family members. However, a shortcoming of previous studies is that the association between women’s land rights and health may be confounded by other factors such as differences in wealth, agency, and upbringing between women with land and those without.
We study the impact of women’s land rights on the health of family members by studying Ethiopia’s land certification program, which provided rural households with the right to use, lease, and bequeath land to family members. We address the limitation of previous research by using longitudinal data and leveraging a natural experiment created by the rollout of the land certification. In some regions in Ethiopia, land certificates were issued only to the household head (typically a man) whereas in others certificates were issued jointly to household heads and spouses. We hypothesized that family members where both the household head and spouse were issued land certificates would have better health than those where only a male household head was issued a land certificate.
We used seven waves of panel data for 1,061 families headed by a married man, from the Ethiopia Rural Household Survey that were fielded between 1994 to 2009. At every wave, information for each family member was collected on whether the family member suffered from an illness or injury in the past four weeks, and the duration of illness/injury. Panel fixed effects regression analyses were used to compare the incidence and duration of illness/injury between households issued joint land certificates and a comparison group of households where land certificates were issued to household heads. Analyses controlled for demographic characteristics, number of livestock, and household farm output in the previous year’s harvest season.
There was no difference in likelihood of being injured or ill between households where only the head received a land certificate and those where the head and his spouse received a land certificate. However, the duration of illness/injury was 4–5 days shorter among individuals exposed to joint land certification compared to those exposed to head-only certification (p <.05).
Conclusions and Implications:
Increased women’s land rights was accompanied by shorter duration of illness/injury of all family members indicating that either the illness/injury was milder or that families were spending more of their resources on treatment and care of family members. This suggests that addressing gender inequality in land rights has the potential to realize health objectives for developing countries. Improving women’s land rights could be an important tool for health and welfare policy.