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Widowhood and asset inheritance in sub-Saharan Africa: empirical evidence from 15 countries

Amber Peterman


Widows in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) are perceived to face widespread discrimination in asset and property inheritance following the death of a spouse, leading to poverty for themselves and their children. However, large-sample empirical research directly supporting this claim is scarce. This paper explores levels, determinants and effects of asset inheritance among widows using data from two sources: 1) cross-country, nationally representative demographic and health survey (DHS) data from 15 SSA countries to assess levels and correlates of asset inheritance among ever widowed women aged 15-49; and 2) a 13-year longitudinal panel from the Kagera region in northwest Tanzania to examine the relationship between inheritance and levels of household per capita consumption and value of asset stocks. Results indicate that, across the 15 DHS countries, less than half of widows report inheriting any assets (average inheritance of any assets is 47 percent, ranging from 22 percent in Sierra Leone to 66 percent in Rwanda); the proportion reporting inheriting the majority of assets is lower (average of 32 percent, ranging from 13 percent in Sierra Leone to 60 percent in Rwanda). Across countries, inheritance is generally correlated with higher age, education and wealth, indicating that women with higher socioeconomic status may be more likely to negotiate favourable asset inheritance outcomes. Findings from Kagera indicate that the value of inheritances, especially for widows (and specifically land inheritance), is significant in determining changes in long-term household welfare when accounting for sources of unobservable community- and individual-level bias. Taken together, findings indicate a major role for creative and culturally sensitive programme design to protect widow asset inheritance through property and family law, coupled with rigorous impact evaluation to document effectiveness of these programmes.

This paper is one of a series on Asset inheritance and the intergenerational transmission of poverty commissioned and published by the CPRC. It was first presented at a Roundtable on Inheritance and the Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty hosted jointly by the CPRC and the Overseas Development Institute on 11 October 2010.

Publication Type(s)

CPRC Working Paper


intergenerational transmission of poverty assets discrimination international comparisons gender sub-Saharan Africa inheritance Asset inheritance and IGT of poverty series

ISBN: 978-1-906433-89-5


1 Widowhood and asset inheritance in sub-Saharan Africa PDF 739.1 KB

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