Research

Peer Reviewed Publications

Accounting for Accountability: Local Government and Social Equity in India,Asian Survey, Vol. 55(5), Special Edition on State Capacity in India.

Manuscripts and Working Papers

Reform, Representation and Resistance: The Politics of Property Rights’ Enforcement,” R&R (Journal of Politics).
Representation & Resistance : Positive & Perverse Consequences of Indian Laws for Gender Equality.” Book manuscript, R&R (Cambridge University Press).
Culture, Capital & the Gender Gap in Political Economy Preferences: Evidence from Meghalaya’s Tribes,” with Nikhar Gaikwad (Columbia University), Under Review.
Women’s Inheritance Rights Reform and the Preference for Sons in India,” with Sanchari Roy (University of Sussex), and Sonia Bhalotra (University of Essex).

Other Publications

Forthcoming – “Land Rights Without Law: Property Rights Institutions, Growth, & Development in India,” in Law and Development in India, T. Heller & E. Jensen, Eds. Oxford University Press India.
2009 – “Land Rights Without Laws: Understanding Property Rights Institutions, Growth, & Development in Rural India,” CDDRL Working Paper No. 98, February 2009.
2006 – “Audacious Institutions: Negotiating land tenure in pre-conflict Sri Lanka, Putting Land First? Exploring the Links Between Land & Poverty. Conference Proceedings: 6th Annual Symposium on Land & Poverty in Sri Lanka. Centre for Poverty Analysis, Colombo.

Research Methodology

My research employs an innovative mix of rigorous causal identification strategies and extensive field research. In my book, I exploit exogenously applied electoral quotas, known as “reservations” for women in India’s local government to examine their impact on landmark reforms that grant Hindu women equal rights to inherit ancestral property. I compile what is to my knowledge the most comprehensive summary of reservations’ timing, selection, and rotation mechanisms for the 17 major Indian states in the dataset I analyze: the 2006 round of the Rural Economic and Demographic Survey (REDS) collected by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER). I leverage information from REDS on individual-level land inheritance, household composition, and state capacity to analyze reform’s economic, political, and social impact across time and space for 8,500 households in 17 Indian states. I also rely on extensive qualitative data collected during two years of field research. This material includes interviews with agriculturalists, land revenue bureaucrats, lawyers, politicians, police, and local activists. I conducted most interviews in rural districts across the erstwhile state of Andhra Pradesh, now divided into Telangana and Andhra Pradesh states. I also interviewed politicians in several major cities, to investigate the political motives for reform and the mechanisms that explain its local impact. They inform my theory and empirical investigation of reform’s enforcement and impact across India.

Finally, I draw upon material I collected from state and national legislatures, district courts, land revenue bureaus’ and state and local newspaper archives. These documents help illuminate political debates, legal action, and local bureaucrats’ and activists’ influence encouraging or inhibiting women’s land inheritance. This evidence forms the basis for my descriptive analysis of gender equalizing reforms’ origins, intended impact, and contestation. The combination of survey data, interviews, and historical documents helps me to illuminate the role of local political and social institutions in mediating gender-equalizing reforms’ impact in both the intended domain of land inheritance and the unintended domains of dowry provision, sex selection and aging parents’ care.

I have also designed and implemented a survey experiment with over 3,000 respondents in India with Nikhar Gaikwad (Yale University), which seeks to explain gender-based differences in political economy preferences. We leverage the unique cultural setting of Meghalaya, in North East India, where the few remaining matrilineal and patrilineal tribes live side by side to identify the relationship between social norms, material resources, and political preferences. Our findings indicate a channel through which social norms drive preferences about political engagement: via their effect on material resources.

I am currently designing and implementing a field experiment on whether reducing the gender gap in access to international labor migration opportunities predicts variation in political economy preferences, political and social engagement, equality in the intra-household distribution of resources, and inter-religious and ethnic tolerance, as well as additional survey experiments. For more detail, please see my research interests.

Research Interests

My published work, as well as pieces under review and in preparation for submission identifies political representation’s ability to alter traditional social institutions’ constraints on gender-equality, and the unintended consequences of reforms aiming to improve women’s political and economic equality. In particular, I find that India’s as-if randomly applied quotas for women in local government improve women’s property inheritance prior to property rights reforms for gender equality. Yet simultaneous exposure to women’s political and economic rights causes an unintended consequence: backlash against women’s property inheritance (“Reform Representation and Resistance: The Politics of Property Rights’ Enforcement”, Under review). This backlash extends across multiple domains, from increasing parental sex selection in favor of sons to children’s marriage choices and son’s increasing unwillingness to care for elder parents (“Representation & Resistance: Positive and Perverse Consequences of Indian Laws for Gender Equality,” Under review). Work in progress with Sonia Bhalotra and Sanchari Roy finds additional support for property rights reform’s unintended consequence of exacerbating son preference across multiple data sets, which is particularly pronounced after the introduction of sex selection technology across India (“Women’s Inheritance Rights Reform and the Preference for Sons in India,” in preparation for submission).

While the aforementioned work finds that the persistence of cultural norms subvert legal reform’s aims, I also find evidence that exposure to progressive institutions—in particular education and labor mobility—eliminates or reverses women’s disadvantage in holding local officials accountable across contemporary rural India (“Accountability in Rural India: Local Government and Social Equality,” Asian Survey, Vol. 55(5), 2015). The combination of a survey experiment and natural variation in cultural norms related to women’s economic prospects—both within and across neighboring matrilineal and patrilineal societies in North East India—allow my co-author, Nikhar Gaikwad (Columbia University) and me to identify culturally-driven resource inequalities’ key role in driving the gender gap in political preferences and engagement (“Culture, Capital and the Gender Gap in Political Economy Preferences: Evidence from Meghalaya’s Matrilineal Tribes (Under review at The American Political Science Review).

My work in progress follows three themes. First, I am currently piloting a field experiment along with Nikhar Gaikwad (Columbia University), funded by Columbia University’s Research and Empirical Analysis of Labor Migration to study whether reducing the gender gap in women’s ability to compete for international labor migration predicts variation in economic behavior, policy preferences, socio-political engagement, intra-household bargaining, and tolerance levels. We will test the extent to which increasing men’s and women’s access to international labor opportunities explains variation in migration and subsequent political economy preferences and behavior across individuals and their communities originating in India’s Mizoram State. We will study the impact of increasing women’s access to income-generating opportunities on not only their autonomy, but also their interest in translating autonomy into political engagement, public policy and social practice. This project will also enable us to study the role of international migration—to the UAE via ethical recruitment agencies—in altering gender inequality within India, via its ability to alter individual-level economic autonomy and exposure to varied social, economic, and political institutions. Second, I am also working with Nikhar Gaikwad to expand our research on the extent to which dynamic social norms drive political preferences and behavior, and how relevant shifts in norms alter political preferences and policy outcomes. To do so, we are developing two sets of survey experiments testing how varied cultural norms about resource ownership and management influence the gender gap in political economy preferences and behavior; the first across a region most commonly associated with gender inegalitarian norms: the Middle East, and the second set of survey experiments across Indian states. Third and finally, I am collaborating with Isabella Mares (Columbia University) causally identify the dynamics of refugee integration and their consequences for political preferences across Europe.

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