Essays on Family Farms and Inheritance

Thèse de l'étudiant: Doc typesDocteur en Sciences économiques et de gestion


This collection of essays, entirely based on first hand data, brings some new contributions to the fascinating question of the evolution of family structure in poor agrarian societies. Family is a rather complex concept because its composition and role vary from one place to another and, above all, because it gathers human beings who interact in many ways. Relationships between family members are of various kinds. Belonging to a family of any type implies emotional and affective links as well as relations of interest and power, between persons of the same status and also among members from different hierarchical levels. Families are micro societies that vehicle values and social norms. “One of the fundamental roles played by parents is that of transmitting distinct cultural traits to their children. These traits include elements of preferences such as the degree of altruism, risk aversion, attitude towards fertility and labour force participation, religious traits, etc.” (La Ferrara, 2011). Another important role played by older generations is the transmission of wealth, so that the division of assets also influences the intergenerational transmission of inequality. Furthermore, inheritance patterns are crucial elements in contexts where access to land in severely restricted or where land market is not or hardly developed. The questions of how and when parental wealth is transferred to children are, therefore, of high interest since it can shape the evolution of the future generations. The first two chapters tackle the issue of land inheritance patterns using first hand data collected in the Peruvian highlands. Andean peasants are among the poorest in Latin America, they mainly live on land which they access through inheritance. These communities are also characterized by a high migration rate and a very low level of education. In this area, the sense of belonging to a family is closely linked to the relation people have with their home land (the “Pacha Mama”), with their native community. A better knowledge of inheritance practices is of importance in the study area where rural land market barely exists and which suffers from severe problems of land fragmentation. In Chapter 1, the land division pattern is analyzed through the estimation of an inheritance function. One of the main results is that a child’s caring attitude towards his/her parents has a positive effect on the access to land bequest, especially for migrant children. We also argue that potential heirs play an active role in the determination of the inheritance outcomes. In Chapter 2, we explore, theoretically and empirically, the influence of migration and parental land endowment on the probability for children to obtain their inheritance in the form of inter vivos transfers, post-mortem bequests, or a combination of both. First, we find that migrant children tend to receive their entire land inheritance post-mortem. Second, we observe that (remaining) children from more wealthy families have a higher probability to obtain their inheritance in the forms of both inter vivos transfers and bequests, while (remaining) children from poorer families tend to obtain it post-mortem.   In the third and last chapter, we study another aspect of the family structure in a completely different society. On the basis of first hand data collected in the San-Koutiala-Sikasso region in Mali, we compare land productivity between collective fields and plots that are individually cultivated by male or female members of the household. We do not focus on the inheritance pattern anymore, yet the individual plots can somehow be considered as inter vivos gifts of land. During our field work in the old cotton zone in Mali, we were puzzled by the co-existence of various farm-cum-family structures within a same village. We could find large traditional extended families co-existing with smaller ‘nuclear’ families, on the one hand and, purely collective farms co-existing with mixed farms (farms in which there exist collectively cultivated fields as well as individually cultivated plots), on the other hand. Inspired by these observations, many research ideas came up and three companion research papers have been written (until now). First, Guirkinger and Platteau (2011a) developed a theoretical model to explain the evolution of large purely collective farms into mixed farms and/or into smaller collective farms (split). Assuming that collective production is plagued with moral-hazard-in-team problem, they show that “as land scarcity increases, or as exit options available to family members improve, the pure collective farm will unavoidably become inferior to alternative farm structures from the standpoint of the family head who draws his entire income from a share of the collectively produced harvest. The intuition is that, when land becomes scarcer, the head has to give more weight to efficiency considerations compared to his rent-capturing ability. This is because he has to satisfy the members’ participation constraints under harsher conditions than before”.In a second paper, the same authors (2011b) empirically confirmed one of the predictions of their theoretical model: “increasing land scarcity prompt household heads to give individual plots of land to (male) members”. In a third paper (which happens to be the third chapter of this thesis), we compare land productivity between plots controlled by different members of the household by using detailed information on input and output data. Firstly, we find that land yields are significantly larger on (male) private plots than on common plots with similar characteristics planted to the same crop in the same year after all appropriate controls have been included. And secondly, we bring strong suggestive evidence that a moral-hazard-in-team problem exists on the collective fields (yet only with regard to care-intensive crops) that could explain their relatively poor performance. This last result tends to confirm the rightfulness of the assumptions used in the theoretical model. Despite data limitation, some of the results presented in this thesis offer new insights into the modus operandi of families in two different poor areas. The understanding of the way family members interact is crucial so as to design appropriate poverty reduction policies.
Date de réussite21 oct. 2011
Institution diplomante
  • Université de Namur
SuperviseurJean-Philippe Platteau (Promoteur), Jean-Marie Baland (Président), Catherine Guirkinger (Jury), Eliana LA FERRARA (Jury) & Sylvie Lambert (Jury)


  • Land access
  • Mali
  • Land productivity
  • Inheritance
  • Family farm
  • Migration
  • Peru

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Essays on Family Farms and Inheritance
Goetghebuer, T. (Auteur). 21 oct. 2011

Thèse de l'étudiant: Doc typesDocteur en Sciences économiques et de gestion