Gender Inequality in Asset Ownership in Latin America: Female Owners vs Household Heads


  • Carmen Diana Deere,

    1. is Distinguished Professor of Latin American Studies and Food and Resource Economics at the University of Florida (e-mail: She is the co-author of Empowering Women: Land and Property Rights in Latin America and is currently working on women's asset ownership in Ecuador.
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  • Gina E. Alvarado,

    1. is a doctoral candidate in Sociology at the University of Florida, with a certificate in Latin American Studies (e-mail: Her research interests include gender and international development, with a focus on home ownership and wealth. She has carried out research in Peru and Nicaragua.
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  • Jennifer Twyman

    1. is a doctoral candidate in Food and Resource Economics at the University of Florida (e-mail: Her research interests include international development and environmental economics in Latin America with an emphasis on gender asset and wealth inequalities.
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The research on which this article is based was supported by a grant from the Latin American and Caribbean Poverty and Gender Unit, The World Bank. The authors would like to thank José Molinas for his support of this project, as well as our various collaborators at the University of Florida who assisted in processing the data sets for this study, specifically Doriam Borges, María José Castillo and Zachary Catanzarite. We are also grateful to Cheryl Doss and an anonymous reviewer for the Gender Perspectives on International Development series for very helpful comments on an earlier draft which appeared as Working Paper No. 296, Gender, Development and Globalization Program, Michigan State University, March 2010; and to the anonymous referees of the journal for their input into this final article.


Most studies that incorporate a gender dimension into the study of poverty or other development outcomes focus on the sex of the household head. This article argues that a headship analysis gives only a partial view of gender inequality since it does not take into account the position of women within male-headed households. Drawing primarily on the Living Standard Measurement Studies for Latin America and the Caribbean, the authors present baseline indicators of the degree of gender inequality in asset ownership for the eleven countries in the region that have collected individual-level data on asset ownership. Disaggregated data on asset ownership within households suggest that the distribution of property by gender is more equitable than a headship analysis alone would imply. But the degree of gender inequality also varies according to the specific asset and among countries. Further comparative work on asset ownership requires attention to the marital regimes governing property rights in marriage. Finally, the authors suggest how household surveys could be improved by standardizing the collection of individual-level asset data across countries.