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 variable 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 labor 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 a shift towards patriarchal norms that have persisted to the 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

Sibling Gender and Marriage Patterns in Sub-Saharan Africa.


This paper examines how sibling gender composition affects women's transition to first marriage in sub-Saharan Africa. To address potential endogeneity in the final sibling gender composition, I exploit the random assignment of the second child's gender in a household with at least two children. Combining ethnographic data with current variation in an individual's age at first marriage, I causally estimate the effect of having a sister relative to a brother on women's age at marriage. The results show that females with a younger sister get married younger, with negative consequences for her education and literacy. The effects are stronger within countries that traditionally pay bride price at marriage. These patterns cannot be attributed to sibling rivalry theory. Instead, the findings support theories of family-level resource constraints and raise the interest to understand how the interaction of household resource constraints and traditional cultural norms affects the transition to marriage and human capital.

Confinement et Qualité de Vie Reliée à la Santé: Analyse des Effets et des Facteurs de Risque, joint with Thomas G. Poder, Elise Dufresne, Roxane Borgès Da Silva, and Jie He (2020).

The Impact of COVID-19 on Economies, Social Cohesion, and Governance in Africa: Evidence from Benin, Burkina Faso, and South Africa, joint with Leonard Wantchekon, Ian Heffernan, Hugo Van Der Merwe, and Damien Iankoande.

Social Policies and Redistribution of Wealth in Quebec, joint with Amélie Quesnel-Vallée and Jaunathan Bilodeau.

Pfizer and Trust in Medicine in Nigeria, joint with Nchare Fogam.


Witchcraft and Gender Roles, joint with Nchare Fogam.