This paper investigates whether inheritance rights empower women by increasing their autonomy/say within the household. Existing literature focuses on the woman's income contribution to the household budget as the key source of decision-making authority within the household. But property rights, in particular inheritance rights, can be an important alternative source of such authority since they improve the woman's \"outside options\" leading to greater bargaining power within the household. In India, the original inheritance law for the Hindu majority, laid down by the central government in 1956, was biased against female heirs but some states have thereafter amended the law to make it more gender equal. Exogenous variation created by the specification of this amendment to the law, in terms of religion and land-holding, is used to identify the effect of inheritance rights on autonomy of women. Using the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), I find evidence that endowing women with inheritance rights equal with men increases their autonomy within their marital families. The effect seems to be stronger for women whose husbands' occupation is complementary to the form of property inherited, especially in rural areas.
Second Riccardo Faini Doctoral Conference on Development Economics, University of Milan, Italy, September 7-9, 2008. 20 pp.