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Becker, Anke 2018. On the Economic Origins of Constraints on Women’s Sexuality.

This paper studies the economic origins of customs aimed at constraining female sexuality, such as a particularly invasive form of female genital cutting, restrictions on women’s mobility, and norms about female sexual behavior. The analysis tests the anthropological theory that a particular form of pre-industrial economic production – subsisting on pastoralism – favored the adoption of such customs. Pastoralism was characterized by heightened paternity uncertainty due to frequent and often extended periods of male absence from the settlement, implying larger payoffs to imposing constraints on women’s sexuality. Using within-country variation across 500,000 women in 34 countries, the paper shows that women from historically more pastoral societies (i) are significantly more likely to have undergone infibulation, the most invasive form of female genital cutting; (ii) are more restricted in their mobility, and hold more tolerant views towards domestic violence as a sanctioning device for ignoring such constraints; and (iii) adhere to more restrictive norms about virginity and promiscuity. Instrumental variable estimations that make use of the ecological determinants of pastoralism support a causal interpretation of the results. The paper further shows that the mechanism behind these patterns is indeed male absenteeism, rather than male dominance per se.