The Historical Determinants of Gender Roles in Sub-Saharan Africa    (Job Market Paper)


Abstract. There are wide differences in gender roles across societies in Sub-Saharan Africa. This study examines an anthropological hypothesis, first proposed by Engels (1884), that the origin of these differences was the historical domestication of cattle. I investigate the relationship between historical cattle presence and women's outcomes in both pre-colonial and contemporary Africa. The analysis combines ethnographic data on historical cattle presence with measures of pre-colonial gender roles, and contemporary women's outcomes. To address potential endogeneity in historical cattle adoption, I adopt an instrumental variables approach that leverages geo-climatic factors affecting the suitability of ethnic homelands for cattle-raising. The results show that cattle-based societies had more historical gender inequality, as measured by female participation in agriculture, inheritance rules, and other marriage customs. This gender inequality persisted among the descendants of these societies: I find that women from cattle-based societies had lower labour force participation rates, married at younger ages, had higher fertility rates, and were less likely to participate equally in household decision-making. I estimate large effects on women's outcomes even among descendants who lived in areas where cattle were not present, suggesting an important role for cultural persistence. These patterns are robust to a range of specifications and controls, and cannot be attributed to plough cultivation, pastoralism, or exposure to the slave trade. Instead, the findings are consistent with the introduction of cattle having created a large gender-imbalance in wealth holdings, which ultimately led to shift towards patriarchal norms that have persisted to present day.

Disease, Drought, and Development: Effects of the 1890s Cattle Plague in Sub-Saharan Africa,  2019. With Raphael Godefroy and Joshua Lewis.

The great African cattle plague epidemic of the 1890s is widely considered to be the worst natural disaster that wiped out more than 90 percent of cattle in Africa. In this paper, we examine the short- and long-run effects of this cattle plague epidemic on African development. To identify variation in exposure, we combine an index of drought severity during early 1890 with an index of cattle suitability areas. We adopt a difference-in-differences approach, relating variation in rinderpest severity to ethnic-group outcomes in the post-rinderpest period from Murdock (1967). The results show that societies exposed to the cattle plague outbreak were significantly less likely to own cattle in the early 20th century. In addition, we find that the outbreak had lasting effects on individual wealth and that an important mechanism may be distressed migration. We believe the results from the analysis will shed light on the ability of agents to respond to negative environmental shocks, and how the presence of coercive institutions may hamper agents’ ability to respond.

Working Papers

Work in Progress

Demographic Shocks and Restrictions on Women’s Sexuality: Evidence from the Indian Ocean Slave Trade.


This paper tests an anthropological theory that the Indian Ocean slave trade favoured the adoption of female genital cutting customs in Africa. During the Indian Ocean slave trade, slaves buyers had a preference for female slaves, who were employed as concubines and domestic servants. This led to a shortage of women and the emergence of abnormal sex ratios in the remaining African population, creating incentives for men to control women’s sexuality. Using within-country variation across 140,000 women in 24 Sub-Saharan Africa countries, I find that women from societies exposed to the Indian Ocean slave trade are today more likely to have undergone female genital cutting. In addition, they are more likely to experience domestic violence and are more restricted to their mobility. Instrumental variable strategy using distance from the coast supports a causal interpretation of the results. The cultural inter-generational transmission of norms represents a major part of mechanisms explaining the long-run persistence.

Measuring Gender Wage Discrimination in Canada: A Machine Learning Approach. With Fatim L. Diabagaté.

University of Montreal

© 2019 by Lucienne TALBA PAPITE

  • Facebook Social Icône
  • Twitter Icône sociale
  • LinkedIn Social Icône