Essays in Culture and Institutions of Developing Countries



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Gender inequality remains a global issue in developing countries. In 2015, the United Nations included gender equality among its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved by 2030. Recognizing why gender-biased norms emerge and persist across generations is crucial for closing gender gaps. This dissertation focuses on the practice ofFemale Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Africa. Chapter 1 reviews the literature on Female Genital Mutilation to understand why it exists in some societies. I assess the concept of paternity uncertainty, pastoralism, polygyny, and slave trade and its relation to FGM. In addition, I discuss several cultural beliefs held across different ethnic groups to explain why they practice FGM. Finally, I explore how the persistence of FGM can be examined from a cultural evolution perspective by focusing on the role of environmental conditions and kinship structures in sustaining social norms over time. In Chapter 2, I examine how deeply-entrenched ethnic norms determine FGM today. Using both ethnographic and contemporary survey data for over 130,000 women across nine African countries, I find evidence that (i) ethnic identity is associated with FGM; (ii) FGM prevalence in societies that traditionally practiced pastoralism (36-45% dependence level),plow agriculture and kinship tightness (Score: 0.25) has declined across birth cohorts; (iii) FGM rates are rising among women from ethnic groups that historically had norms regarding premarital sexual behavior. Chapter 3 explores how laws affect attitudes. Specifically, I examine the short-term effects of the FGM ban on attitudes towards ending the practice. I use IPUMS-DHS data for women belonging to the Malinke and Peulh ethnic groups in both Guinea and Mali, pre and post-intervention, to examine the impact of the FGM law ban. I employ a difference-in-difference approach that is made possible because of the artificial drawing of the African borders, which partitioned ethnic groups with identical beliefs and customs across countries. My result shows that the FGM law was associated with a 5.4 percentage point increase in attitudes that favored ending FGM. This negative attitude towards FGM was present regardless of the woman’s ethnic group.



Africa, Female circumcision, Female genital cutting, Female genital mutilation, Gender, Social norm