Figures of the week: Female property ownership in sub-Saharan Africa

Mary Adhiambo, dries her maize in the sun outside her house in the U.S. President Barack Obama's ancestral village of Nyang'oma Kogelo, west of Kenya's capital Nairobi, July 15, 2015. Adhiambi, 25, said they benefited from Barack Obama's Presidency as they have well tarmacked roads and electricity was connected to the village. "We received grants to build houses and shelter from the harsh weather as an indirect benefit from President Obama's leadership" she said. President Obama visits Kenya and Ethiopia in July, his third major trip to Sub-Saharan Africa after travelling to Ghana in 2009 and to Tanzania, Senegal and South Africa in 2011. He has also visited Egypt, in North Africa, and South Africa for Nelson Mandela's funeral. Obama will be welcomed by a continent that had expected closer attention from a man they claim as their son, a sentiment felt acutely in the Kenyan village where the 44th U.S. president's father is buried. Picture taken July 15, 2015. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya - GF10000168062

A recently released World Bank working paper, Gender gaps in property ownership in sub-Saharan Africa, explores female property ownership across the continent. The paper, using data from 28 sub-Saharan African countries, finds that women are significantly less likely to own property (land and housing). The study also separately looks at both ownership of land and housing, finding that there is a strong correlation in ownership rates between the two forms of property.

As Figure 1 shows, women are less likely to own both land and housing. The gap is largest for sole ownership of housing with only 13 percent of women claiming sole ownership compared to 39 percent of men. This gap narrows when joint ownership is included with 43 percent of women and 55 percent of men claiming they have sole or joint ownership of some housing. According to the paper, this ownership gap results in 20 million fewer women having any housing ownership in sub-Saharan Africa.

Figure 1: Gender gaps translate into millions of disadvantaged women in AfricaGender gaps translate into disadvantaged women

Looking at the pattern across countries, gender gaps in ownership are largest in West African countries and smallest in Southern African countries (Figure 2). In a few countries such as Lesotho, Liberia, and Ethiopia, combined joint and sole ownership of housing is higher for women than men. Looking within countries, Figure 3 shows that the gender gap in property ownership is larger in rural areas. As with the continent-wide data, the gender gap is narrower when joint ownership is included (Figure 3, right-hand panel). A caveat in the urban-rural disaggregation is that the gap is narrower not because women have higher property ownership rates in urban areas but rather men are much less likely to own property.

Figure 2: Gender gaps in property ownership are largest in West AfricaGender gaps in property ownership in West Africa

Figure 3: Gender gaps in property ownership are larger in rural areasGender gaps in property ownershi are larger in rural than urban areas

In the econometric analysis, the paper finds several variables to be strong determinants of property ownership; women working in agriculture compared to those who do not work are more likely to own property. Similarly, both men and women with higher levels of education are more likely to be property owners. Lastly, as expected, legal discrimination is a significant determinant and women have higher property ownership rates in countries where property ownership laws are more equitable.