Family Ties, Inheritance Rights, and Successful Poverty Alleviation: Evidence from Ghana
NBER Working Paper No. 18080
Ghanaian custom views children as members of either their mother’s or father’s lineage (extended family), but not both. Patrilineal custom charges a man’s lineage with caring for his widow and children, while matrilineal custom places this burden on the widows’ lineage – her father, brothers, and uncles. Deeming custom inadequate, and to promote the nuclear family, Ghana enacted the Intestate Succession (PNDC) Law 111, 1985 and 1998 Children’s Act 560 to force men to provide for their widows and children, as in Western cultures. Our survey shows that, although most people die intestate and many profess to know Law 111, it is rarely implemented. Knowledge of the law correlates with couples accumulating assets jointly and with inter-vivos husband to wife transfers, controlling for education. These effects are least evident for widows of matrilineal lineage men, suggesting a persistence of traditional norms. Widows with closer ties with their own or their spouse’s lineage report greater financial support, as do those very few who benefit from legal wills or access Law 111 and, importantly, widows of matrilineal lineage. Some evidence also supports Act 560 benefiting nuclear families, especially if the decedent’s lineage is matrilineal. Overall, our study confirms African traditional institutions’ persistent importance, and the limited effects of formal law.
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