Measuring asset ownership from a gender perspective

Assets serve multiple functions. In their productive capacity, they generate income and facilitate access to capital and credit. They also comprise a store of wealth that can be sold to generate income. And assets may provide status and security to their owners.

Most asset data derived from nationally-representative surveys are collected at the household level; for example, by asking whether anyone in a household owns agricultural land, housing or other key assets. However, prior research studies have found that most assets are owned by individuals, whether solely or jointly, and that women and men may not have the same access to assets and may acquire, use and dispose of assets differently.

Measuring asset ownership and control at the individual level is more revealing than household-level data and better equips stakeholders to understand three broad sets of policy issues:

  1. women’s empowerment and well-being, including economic vulnerability and decision-making;
  2. livelihood strategies, including agricultural productivity and entrepreneurship, and
  3. reductions in poverty and vulnerability

To integrate the collection of individual-level asset data into nationally-representative household surveys, the EDGE project is developing methodological guidelines on measuring asset ownership from a gender perspective and testing the methodology in seven countries: Georgia, Maldives, Mexico, Mongolia, Philippines, South Africa, and Uganda. A draft of the guidelines was submitted to the 48th session of the United Nations Statistical Commission in March 2017. Continued analysis of the pilot data will inform the revision of the guidelines and the recommendation of key indicators for global and national monitoring.

Types of ownership

Building off of existing work, the EDGE methodology conceptualizes asset ownership as a bundle of rights, including the rights to manage an asset, use the benefits accruing from it and dispose of the asset. Central to this framework is the notion that these rights may not all be vested in one individual. For example, an individual may have formal ownership of an asset but no managerial control over it.

The EDGE methodology uses four measures to collect individual-level data on the ownership and control of assets:

  • The first measure is to collect information on reported ownership, by asking the respondent if she considers herself to be an owner of the asset, either solely or jointly with someone else.
  • The second measure is to collect information on documented ownership, by asking the respondent whether an ownership document exists for the asset and if so, whether his name is listed as an owner on it.
  • The third measure is to collect information on economic ownership, by asking the respondent whether she would control the proceeds from the sale of the asset.
  • The fourth measure asks whether the respondent has particular rights over the asset, including the right to sell or bequeath the asset.

In addition, because women and men often acquire assets in different ways and the value of their assets may differ, the EDGE methodology collects information on the mode of acquisition and the value of each major asset.

Respondent Selection Protocols

Central to collecting data at the individual level is the question of whom to interview. While most household surveys implemented by NSOs interview the head of household or the person most knowledgeable about the survey topic, stakeholders at an EDGE technical meeting held in Bangkok in July-August 2013 questioned whether this approach was appropriate for collecting data on the ownership and control of assets at the individual level. A key recommendation to emerge from the meeting was that the EDGE project should develop clear guidelines on respondent selection protocols for measuring asset ownership and control at the individual level. As a result, the EDGE project established a partnership with the World Bank Living Standards Measurement Study to implement a Methodological Survey Experiment on Measuring Asset Ownership from a Gender Perspective (MEXA) in Uganda. Building on the findings of MEXA, the EDGE project has been testing different interview protocols across six additional pilots with a view toward identifying the most operationally feasible and analytically robust protocol for interviewing household members about individual-level asset ownership and control.