Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Rosenzweig, Mark


Developing countries are urbanizing, transitioning out of agriculture, and expanding social protection programs. In order to understand the economic consequences of these phenomena, it is important to understand the way that individual and household behavior adjusts in response to these changes. This dissertation examines this interplay; I study how cultural institutions and structural transformation interact, and evaluate the effects of a specific form of social protection: cognitive behavioral therapy. In Chapter 1, I examine the ways in which a specific set of cultural institutions, land inheritance rules, interact with economic opportunities outside of agriculture. In particular, I examine the effects of female land inheritance on economic productivity in Ghana, by examining variation in inheritance customs across ethnic groups. In patrilineal groups, land passes from fathers to sons. In contrast, inheritance rules are more flexible in matrilineal groups; land can pass to both men and women. This flexibility improves productivity by allowing men and women to better optimize their labor allocation, taking into account gender differences in the outside options available. In matrilineal groups, women are more likely to inherit land, which leads to them managing farms and supplying labor to their own plots. Their inheritance induces men to exit agriculture and work for a wage. This improves male labor productivity and produces higher per capita consumption. In contrast, because women face additional barriers to participating in the labor market, male inheritance under patrilineal inheritance is associated with women supplying labor to male-owned plots, and supplying less labor in total. Two mechanisms explain the positive effects of female inheritance on male labor productivity: (1) men who exit farming capture the returns to their skill, because the wage labor market rewards cognitive skill, while farming does not, and (2) the wage labor market offers an earnings premium over agriculture. This gain does not come at the expense of reduced farm productivity, which does not differ across the two inheritance regimes. These results thus suggest that asymmetric constraints on men and women interact in important ways with occupations outside of agriculture, and suggest that more flexible systems of inheritance can generate productivity benefits as countries transition out of agriculture, but women's economic opportunities in the labor market remain limited. A frequently stated aim of social protection programs is to positively affect the productivity of those participating in these programs. Chapter 2 considers the impacts of a specific form of social protection program, cognitive behavioral therapy, as a means of improving human capital when delivered to a general, low-income population in rural Ghana (N=7,227). Results from a randomized evaluation show strong impacts on mental and perceived physical health, cognitive and socioemotional skills, and economic self-perceptions when measured 1-3 months after the conclusion of the program. These effects hold regardless of baseline mental distress. Evidence suggests that this is because CBT can improve well-being for a general population of poor individuals through two pathways: reducing vulnerability to deteriorating mental health, and directly increasing cognitive capacity and socioemotional skills.