Women in the labor force
Women in village in the state of Gujarat. Photo: Tanu Gupta.

The equal inheritance reform for women in India is breaking barriers

Gender equality has long been a cornerstone of societal progress. In India, where traditional norms often limit women's participation in the labor market, the conversation around equal inheritance reform takes center stage. A study by Tanu Gupta, explores the transformative effects of legal equal inheritance reforms on women's time allocation decisions, aiming to illuminate the nuanced ways in which such changes can enhance women's autonomy and influence their roles in both domestic and market spheres.

EfD India Research Fellow, Tanu Gupta concludes that equal inheritance reform emerges as a powerful tool to enhance women's stake in households and families. This legal shift not only challenges traditional gender roles but also holds the potential to dismantle cultural barriers that hinder women's entry into the workforce. The findings suggest that inheritance reform has the potential to counteract gender norms, creating more harmonious and equitable environments for women within households.

“Empowering women through legal reforms can pave the way for a more inclusive and gender-equal society. As India grapples with the need for social transformation, equal inheritance reform stands as a beacon of hope for a future where women have increased autonomy and agency in both their homes and the broader community,” says Tanu Gupta.

Cultural norms are strong

Despite progress in women's education, delayed marriage, and decreased childbearing rates, women's labor force participation in India remains low. Deep-seated cultural norms that define gendered divisions of labor are significant barriers to women entering the workforce. In a study, Tanu Gupta delves into the nuanced ways in which women respond to these norms, not just by exiting the labor market but also by adjusting the time allocated to market work.

Legal reforms can boost autonomy

The catalyst for change lies in the potential of greater autonomy to propel women into the labor market. The World Bank suggests that legal reforms, such as equal inheritance rights, have the potential to improve women's economic outcomes and bolster their economic empowerment. Her study aims to assess the tangible impact of equalizing inheritance rights on women's time allocation decisions.

Reform changed women’s time use

The focus of her study is on the amendments to the Hindu Succession Act 1956 in India, a pivotal reform that came in between 1978 and 2005 and granted equal coparcenary rights to women. Using data from the Time Use Survey 2019, the study compares the time use allocation of women exposed to the reform with those who were not, specifically targeting currently married women aged between 15 and 60.

The findings are telling. Women exposed to the reform not only increased their time in employment by 41 minutes per day but also reallocated 38 minutes per day from home production to market work. Astonishingly, this change does not encroach upon leisure time, signifying a nuanced transformation in women's lives,” says Tanu Gupta.

Household roles were redefined

As women spend less time in home production, the question arises: do other household members compensate for this change? The study reveals a fascinating pattern – in households where women have experienced inheritance reform, other members, particularly men, step up their contributions to home production. This dynamic signifies a redistribution of responsibilities within the household.

Read this research paper!

News | 1 February 2024