Anke BECKER, Harvard Business School



14.45 am to 16.00 pm


On the Economic Origins of Restricting Women’s Promiscuity


This paper studies the origins and function of customs and norms that intend to keep women from being promiscuous. Using large-scale survey data from more than 100 countries, I test the anthropological theory that a particular form of pre- industrial subsistence – pastoralism – favored the adoption of such customs and norms. Pastoralism was characterized by heightened paternity uncertainty due to frequent and often extended periods of male absence from the settlement, implying larger incentives to imposing restrictions on women’s sexuality. The paper shows that women from historically more pastoral societies (i) are subject to stronger anti- abortion attitudes; (ii) are more likely to have undergone infibulation, the most invasive form of female genital cutting; (iii) are more restricted in their freedom of mobility; and (iv) adhere to more restrictive norms about women’s promiscuity. Instrumental variable estimations that make use of the ecological determinants of pastoralism support a causal interpretation of the results. I also provide evidence that the mechanism behind these patterns is indeed paternity uncertainty, rather than male dominance, per se, or historical economic development.