Differences Between Sons and Daughters in the Intergenerational Transmission of Wealth

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Persistent interest lies in gender inequality, especially with regard to the favouring of sons over daughters. Economists are concerned with how privilege is transmitted across generations, and anthropologists have long studied sex-biased inheritance norms. There has, however, been no focused cross-cultural investigation of how parent–offspring correlations in wealth vary by offspring sex. We estimate these correlations for 38 wealth measures, including somatic and relational wealth, from 15 populations ranging from hunter–gatherers to small-scale farmers. Although small sample sizes limit our statistical power, we find no evidence of ubiquitous male bias, at least as inferred from comparing parent–son and parent–daughter correlations. Rather we find wide variation in signatures of sex bias, with evidence of both son and daughter-biased transmission. Further, we introduce a model that helps pinpoint the conditions under which simple mid-point parent–offspring wealth correlations can reveal information about sex-biased parental investment. Our findings are relevant to the study of female-biased kinship by revealing just how little normative descriptors of kinship systems, such as patrilineal inheritance, capture intergenerational correlations in wealth, and how variable parent–son and parent–daughter correlations can be.

This article is part of the theme issue ‘The evolution of female-biased kinship in humans and other mammals’.