Women’s rights are closely related to economic development. This is true both across countries, where women have most rights in the richest countries, and in time series data: women have slowly improved their legal position in parallel with fast improvements in the standard of living. In most cases, the initial extension of rights to women amounted to a voluntary renouncement of power by men.
In this paper, we investigate the economic incentives for men to share power with women. We show that men may want to voluntarily relinquish some of their power once technological change increases the importance of human capital. The reason is that men face a tradeoff between how they would ideally like to treat their own wives and how they want other women to be treated. While men might want little rights for their own wives, they may prefer their daughters to have a better bargaining position with future husbands. In addition, a wife’s education matters for producing high-quality children. A husband prefers his children to find high-quality mates, and therefore stands to gain from increasing the power of his children’s mothers-in-law.
Men have wives - but they also have daughters. Indeed, seeing the world through a daughters' eyes can make even the most macho or chauvinistic man reconsider their attitudes on gender equality.
For those near Yale, Michèle Tertilt is presenting the paper there on Monday 15 October to their Development Workshop