Because assets have cultural meaning as well as economic value, individual ownership of assets, and the meanings thereof have long been studied by anthropologists and other social scientists, often in the context of studies of marriage and inheritance (e.g. Goody 1973).  In economics, much of the early work on measuring the gender asset gap was conducted in the 1990s in order to test theories of household behavior—whether households behaved as though they made decisions “as one unit” (also known as the "unitary model”) or whether they were composed of individuals who may have different preferences and did not necessarily pool their resources.  Because assets that husbands and wives controlled were thought to influence spouses’ decision-making within marriage, early studies collected information on assets at marriage, inherited assets, and current assets, separately for husbands and wives in a wide range of countries (Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Indonesia, Mexico, Philippines, and South Africa).[1]

However, these early attempts at collecting gender-disaggregated asset data did not pay much attention to asset ownership by other household members (even if the bulk of household assets are typically owned by husband and wife), and were typically confined to smaller samples (300-1000 households) that were not necessarily nationally representative.[2]  Early work by Deere, Doss, and Grown in the 2000s attempted to systematize the collection of individual-level asset data in the context of large scale household surveys similar to the Living Standards Measurement Studies.  This led to current efforts to measure assets at the individual level in the In Her Name project.


[1] These studies can be found in Quisumbing, ed. (2003).

[2] There were, of course, exceptions.  The Indonesia Family Life Survey (Frankenberg and Thomas 2001) was nationally representative, and the PROGRESA evaluation (Skoufias 2005) was a large survey designed to evaluate the impact of a conditional cash transfer program in Mexico.