Women’s Individual and Joint Property Ownership: Effects on Household Decisionmaking


Photo credit: C. Thierfelder/CIMMYT

Researchers and policymakers increasingly recognize the important links between women’s property rights, household decisionmaking, and women’s empowerment. If you increase a woman’s property rights, you increase her bargaining power within the household, which can boost the productivity of that household and will also increase the woman’s overall empowerment.

In their new IFPRI/PIM discussion paper Women’s Individual and Joint Property Ownership: Effects on Household Decisionmaking, Cheryl Doss, Emily Hillenbrand, Sung Mi Kim, Maureen Miruka, and Jemimah Njuki, aim to shed light on the question of whether women’s role in decisionmaking is dependent upon their individual or joint property rights.

Using data collected through the CARE Pathways project in India, Malawi, Mali, and Tanzania, this paper analyzes the relationships between women’s ownership of two key assets, housing and agricultural land, and their input into decisionmaking on agricultural production and nonagricultural decisions.

The authors conclude that property ownership is correlated with women’s input into household decisionmaking, although the patterns differ across the four countries. Overall, women who own land or housing in Malawi, Mali, and Tanzania are more likely to have input into a greater number of household decisions. The pattern holds much less for Orissa State in India, where women’s joint housing ownership is actually negatively correlated with women’s participation in all decisions.

Input into decisions doesn’t mean that women have the final say in these decisions. While there is some recognition of the importance of joint decisionmaking in all four countries, in the end much of the qualitative evidence reveals that the norm is for men to have the final say.

One important finding is that individual and joint landownership have statistically significantly different effects on women’s input into agricultural decisions in the three African countries. There is no relationship between women’s landholdings, either joint or individual, and input into agricultural decisions in Orissa State.

This analysis relies on women’s reporting of how the land is owned and their understanding of whether the land or housing is owned individually or jointly. It is not necessarily based on whether their names appear on landownership documents.

This work highlights that individual and joint ownership may have different impacts on measures of women’s empowerment and input into decisionmaking.


Cheryl Doss is a Senior Lecturer in African Studies and Economics at Yale University and PIM's Gender Lead. She is also a member of the PIM Management Committee and leader of the PIM research Cluster on Sex-Disaggregated Data.

Citation: Doss, Cheryl; Kim, Sung Mi; Njuki, Jemimah; Hillenbrand, Emily; and Miruka, Maureen. 2014. Women’s individual and joint property ownership: Effects on household decisionmaking. IFPRI Discussion Paper 1347. Washington, D.C.: International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). http://ebrary.ifpri.org/cdm/ref/collection/p15738coll2/id/128149