Does the landowner’s gender affect farm productivity and self-cultivation? An empirical analysis for India

Bina Agarwal and Malvika Mahesh


The effect of tenure security conferred by land ownership on farm productivity has been much examined at the household level but rather little from a gender perspective. Equally, studies on gender differences in agricultural productivity are relatively few, and those focusing on the landowner’s gender are even fewer. Moreover, the bulk of existing work on gender and farm productivity, and all the studies that additionally examine whether the landowner’s gender makes a difference, relate to Sub-Saharan Africa. The few studies on Asia, including one on India, focus on the gender of farm managers rather than that of landowners. This paper fills this important research gap. It uses a unique household-level dataset for nine Indian states to examine differences in farm productivity between female and male landowners, controlling for inputs, and demographic and locational factors. It also demarcates the effect of caste, thus providing insights on the intersectionality of gender and caste, as well as region. In addition, it examines gender differences in the likelihood of landowners self-cultivating as opposed to leasing out their land, and the factors underlying observed differences. This is the first study for India and Asia which covers these varied dimensions.

We find no statistically significant difference in farm productivity per hectare between female and male landowner cultivator households, with or without controlling for input use, owner and household characteristics, and region. Caste matters, however: Scheduled Caste (SC) owner-cultivators of both genders have significantly lower productivity than upper-caste ones. Since 55% of female owner-cultivators in our sample are SC relative to 39% of the male owner-cultivators, gender linked with caste could constitute a notable disadvantage. Moreover, women owners are found significantly less likely to self-cultivate their land than male owners. This is linked especially to family labour constraints and regional opportunities.


Gender differences, farm productivity, self-cultivation, caste, India

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