Q&A

Q. How are ‘assets’ defined?

A. Assets come in tangible or intangible forms which include:

  • Natural resource capital such as land, water, trees, genetic resources;
  • Physical capital such as agricultural and business equipment, houses, consumer durables, vehicles and transportation, water supply and sanitation facilities, technology, and communications infrastructure;
  • Human capital such as education, skills, knowledge, health, nutrition, and labor power;
  • Financial capital such as savings, credit, and inflows (state transfers and remittances);
  • Social capital such as membership in organizations, networks that increase trust, ability to work together, access to opportunities, reciprocity, and informal safety nets;
  • Political capital such as citizenship, enfranchisement, and effective participation in governance—often key to controlling rights over other assets.

Q. Is ‘gender’ interchangeable with ‘women’ when discussing asset ownership?

A. Though they are often incorrectly used interchangeably, the words ‘gender’ and ‘women’ refer to two different concepts.  ‘Gender’ refers to the set of socially constructed roles, behaviors, responsibilities, and attributes a society considers appropriate for men and women.  ‘Gender’ therefore considers women in relation to men, while ‘women’ is not a relational concept.

Q. Why focus on assets rather than income?

A.  Control over and ownership of assets is a critical component of well-being. Increasing control and ownership of assets helps to create success in pathways out of poverty in comparison to interventions aimed at increasing income or consumption alone, For example, assets play an important role in many livelihood strategies and can be built over time, while income or consumption are subject to fluctuations.  In addition, asset ownership carries intangible benefits such as increasing self-esteem and social status which are associated with both individual and household well-being.

Q. Why should development interventions focus on gender and assets?

A. Research shows that households do not pool resources nor share the same preferences; this implies that who within the household receives resources determines the impact of policy and development programs.  Evidence from many countries across a range of development interventions shows that increasing resources controlled by women improves child health and nutrition outcomes, agricultural productivity and income growth. The evidence on the different ways in which men and women use assets is diverse; for example:

  • The greater a woman’s asset holdings at marriage, the larger the share the household spends on children’s education;[1]
  • A higher share of women’s assets in Bangladesh is associated with better health outcomes for girls;[2]
  • Increases in women’s education (investment in human capital) around the world have made the greatest contribution to reducing the rate of child malnutrition, responsible for 43 percent of the total reduction;[3]
  • Gender inequality in education reduces economic growth.[4]