Suicide and Female Property Rights in India

November 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

Somewhat recently, BREAD (the Bureau of Research and Economic Analysis of Development, house at Duke University) released a working paper on suicide and female property rates in India. It sheds interesting light on the need to study the effects of our well-meaning interventions and policy changes. I believe we’d all agree that women have the right to own property…But what to do with such unintended effects?

Authors: Siwan Anderson, Garance Genicot

Abstract: This paper studies the impact of female property rights on male and female suicide rates in India. Using state level variation in legal changes to women’s property rights, we show that better property rights for women are associated with a decrease in the difference between female and male suicide rates, but an increase in both male and female suicides. We conjecture that increasing female property rights increased conflict within household and this increased conflict resulted in more suicides among both men and women in India. Using individual level data on domestic violence we find evidence that increased property rights for women did increase the incidence of wife beating in India. We develop a model of intra-household bargaining with asymmetric information and costly conflict to explain these findings.

I’m sure that many of you have heard about the US protestation in the early 90s that lead to a factory abroad being closed for using child laborers– –only to discover months later (via a UNICEF follow-up) that many of the young female workers had since entered prostitution to make ends meet. Or perhaps you’ve heard about PlayPumps (though they’ve since turned themselves around)? Or perhaps you’ve heard of Scared Straight, the juvenile justice intervention that actually increases crime? Or, if you don’t care about the evaluative science, perhaps you care about your tax dollars?

Whatever the case, don’t forget that good intentions are not enough. Question your assumptions, and study them out. If you happen to be involved in an NGO (i.e. non-profit), ensure that they join the recent band-wagon of evaluative methods. You can’t be sure of what your really doing until you test it. In fact, even then you may not know. But at least you’ve tried.

If you donate to a non-profit or are active in politics, don’t be afraid to let some of your money not go directly “to the cause.” Let it also go to impact evaluation. Demand that it does. Who knows what you’ll find? Perhaps something to put even more money into. Perhaps something to put nothing into.


Chalmers, I, (2003). Trying to do more good than harm in policy and practice: the role of rigorous, transparent, up-to-date evaluations. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, 589, Sept, 22-40.

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