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Do historical agro-ecological factors shape current attitudes towards women’s rights and abilities?

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A growing strand of literature documents how historical agricultural and ecological factors continue to determine women’s role and well-being in society through cultural transmission even today. Studies have shown that such factors are significantly associated with perceptions regarding women’s right to jobs and their abilities as political leaders. However, scant attention has been paid to women’s ability as business executives and their democratic rights. Using individual-level observations from multiple waves of the World Values Survey, this paper investigates whether these historical and ecological factors can explain perceptions regarding women’s democratic rights and their ability as business executives. Overall, our findings support the existing literature and show that historical agricultural and ecological factors (ancestral plough use, Neolithic transition, and ancestral resource endowments) have a much broader impact on women’s rights and abilities in diverse contexts, including the labor force, business, and politics. Given the robustness of this phenomenon, it calls for broad affirmative action favoring women in different social spheres.

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  1. To be consistent, all our explanatory variables of interest, that is, ancestral plough use, years since transition to agriculture, and ancestral ecological endowments, are measured at the country level. Alesina et al. (2013a) use district-level plough use, while the 'years since transition to agriculture’ variable utilized by Hansen et al. (2015) does not vary at the district level. On the other hand, Hazarika et al. (2019b) do not use the WVS but rely on Indian district analysis for sub-national analysis.


  3. As in Alesina et al. (2018), we drop “neither” responses, since it is not clear whether the respondent holds the intermediate view or simply choses not to answer the question or does not know the answer.

  4. The exact survey question is as follows. “Please tell me for each of the following things how essential you think it is as a characteristic of democracy. Use this scale where 1 means “not at all an essential characteristic of democracy” and 10 means it definitely is “an essential characteristic of democracy”—Women have the same rights as men”.

  5. The ISCED classification is as follows. Early childhood education (ISCED 0)/no education; Primary education (ISCED 1); Lower secondary education (ISCED 2); Upper secondary education (ISCED 3); Post-secondary non-tertiary education (ISCED 4); Short-cycle tertiary education (ISCED 5); Bachelor or equivalent (ISCED 6); Master or equivalent (ISCED 7); Doctoral or equivalent (ISCED 8). The lower level of education consists of ISCED 0, ISCED 1, and ISCED 2; the middle level of education includes ISCED 3, ISCED 4, and ISCED 5, ISCED 6, ISCED 7, and ISCED 8 make up the higher level of education.

  6. “An international dollar has the same purchasing power over GDP as the U.S. dollar has in the United States”.

  7. Results are available from the authors on request.

  8. (accessed: January 11,2023).

  9. (accessed: January 11,2023).


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Correspondence to Chandan Kumar Jha.

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Jha, C.K., Sarangi, S. & Tripathi, I. Do historical agro-ecological factors shape current attitudes towards women’s rights and abilities?. Ind. Econ. Rev. 58 (Suppl 1), 87–104 (2023).

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