Measuring asset ownership from a gender perspective

Why is there a need to collect asset ownership data from a gender perspective?

Assets serve multiple functions to their owners, whether they are owned by households or by individuals. In their productive capacity, they generate income and facilitate access to capital and credit. They also strengthen a household’s capacity to cope with and respond to shocks by enhancing its ability to diversify income and ease liquidity constraints. Moreover, assets comprise a store of wealth that can be liquidated or passed on to future generations. And assets may provide status and security to their owners.

The importance of women’s ownership and control of assets has long been recognized as a key element of the empowerment of women. Women’s ownership of assets is positively associated with a number of important development outcomes for the household, including food security, child nutrition and education, reduction in vulnerability and poverty when the household dissolves and increased bargaining power in the household.

Why is it important to collect data at the individual level?

Most official data on assets are collected at the household level, typically by asking a proxy respondent whether anyone in the household owns land, housing or other key assets. However, there is substantial empirical evidence that household members do not fully pool their resources. In addition, prior research has found that most assets are owned by individuals, either solely or jointly.

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. Fostering the empowerment of women and their well-being.
  2. Reducing poverty and vulnerability.
  3. Understanding livelihoods, which can provide the basis for integrated policy packages designed to boost agricultural productivity and entrepreneurship.

What is the conceptual framework for measuring asset ownership from a gender perspective?

As the above figures shows, the conceptual framework covers certain types of assets owned by adult women and men within a household, who have certain ownership rights on these assets, in exclusive or joint forms. According to this framework, the following approaches are recommended:

  • Asset ownership should be conceptualized as a bundle of ownership rights, including documented ownership, reported ownership and the rights to sell and bequeath an asset. To capture gender differences in the ownership and control of assets, many countries will need to measure ownership as a combination of some, or all, of these rights.
  • The priority set of assets on which countries should collect information are the following: principal dwellings, agricultural land, other real estate, including nonagricultural land, and financial assets. Countries may also wish to collect data on non-agricultural enterprises, livestock, agricultural equipment, valuables, liabilities and consumer durables based on their policy needs and the prevalence of each asset within the country.
  • To estimate wealth, each asset should be valued, item by item, at its current market price.

What is the recommended respondent rule?

Individual-level data on asset ownership should be reported by self rather than proxy, owing to large discrepancies between proxy and self-responses and the assignment of ownership by proxy to persons who do not consider themselves owners.

What are the data collection strategies?

When collecting individual-level data on asset ownership, a range of statistics can be generated to answer key policy questions relating to three objectives of data collection:

  1. Measuring the gender asset gap, or the differential prevalence of women’s and men’s asset ownership
  2. Measuring the gender wealth gap, or the difference in total wealth held by women and men
  3. In households where more than one member is interviewed, understanding how asset ownership and wealth are distributed among couples or by sex within households

Depending on the determined objectives of the survey, there are three strategies to select for collecting data on individual-level asset ownership and control:

  1. Appending a minimum set of questions on ownership and rights to existing household survey, if the objective is to measure gender gap on priority assets. The recommended minimum set of questions is available in the annex of the Guidelines.
  2. Appending a module on asset ownership and rights, and also on asset characteristics, to existing household surveys, if the objective is to obtain detailed asset ownership information, such as gender wealth gap.
  3. Conducting a stand-alone survey, if the objective is to collect information on the full range of physical and financial assets and their characteristics, or to conduct intrahousehold analysis. A model questionnaire is available in the annex of the Guidelines.

More information on the methodology on measuring asset ownership from a gender perspective is available in the United Nations Guidelines for Producing Statistics on Asset Ownership from a Gender Perspective .