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Seminar: Fertility in Sub-Saharan Africa: The role of inheritance

Tinbergen Institute

Fertility in Sub-Saharan Africa is the highest in the world and it should continue boosting population growth for decades to come. In this paper, we showcase a new driver of fertility decisions that has been largely overlooked by demographers and economists: inheritance rules. In particular, we demonstrate that impartible inheritance (i.e. transmission of the deceased’s property to a single heir) does not incentivize households to control their number of children. Our main empirical strategy links data from the past on deep-rooted inheritance customs for more than 800 ethnic groups with modern demographic surveys covering 24 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Our spatial Regression Discontinuity Design exploiting ancestral borders reveals that belonging to an ethnic group with impartible customs increases fertility by 0.85 children per woman. We also establish, both theoretically and empirically, that impartible inheritance rules play an even bigger role in lands that are less. Joint paper with Sébastien Fontenay and Marc Goñi.


  • Paula Gobbi (Université libre de Bruxelles)


Burgemeester Oudlaan 50,
3062 PA Rotterdam