Matrilineal Kinship and Spousal Cooperation: Evidence from the Matrilineal Belt

Sara Lowes (Stanford University)

Abstract: I examine how matrilineal relative to patrilineal kinship systems affect spousal cooperation. In matrilineal kinship systems, lineage and inheritance are traced through women. The structure of matrilineal kinship systems implies that, relative to patrilineal kinship systems, women have greater support from their own kin groups, and husbands have less authority over their wives. I use experimental and physiological measures and a geographic regression discontinuity design along the matrilineal belt in Africa to test how kinship systems affect spousal cooperation. Men and women from matrilineal ethnic groups cooperate less with their spouses in a lab experiment. This is not the case when paired with a stranger of the opposite sex. I examine the implications of matrilineal kinship for the well-being of women and children. Children of matrilineal women are healthier and better educated, and matrilineal women experience less domestic violence. The results highlight how household outcomes are tied to broader social structures.