Filling the gender gap on asset ownership data

Systematically gathering gender-specific data on ownership of assets such as land, property or finance can help women access credit and provide a cushion during socioeconomic shocks, say ADB’s Kaushal Joshi and Arturo Martinez.

woman cradles child
A woman cradles his son at a port in Solomon Islands. Data about asset ownership can influence policy and enable more women to access finance. Image: Asian Development Bank, CC BY 2.0

The Sustainable Development Goals are a great opportunity to achieve gender equality. However, sex-disaggregated data are a major missing link—particularly on women’s access to productive assets for designing effective policies to address existing gender gap in ownership and command of assets.

We are excited that ADB, the UN Statistics Division, UN Women and other development partners are working together to produce methodological guidelines for the Evidence and Data for Gender Equality (EDGE) project. Expected to be released next year, these guidelines will help countries gather gender-specific asset data more systematically.

Income-generating assets—such as land, property, or finance—can be used as collateral to access credit, and provide a cushion during times of distress and socioeconomic shocks.

For women, ownership and control of productive assets enhances their bargaining power within the household. It also minimizes their exposure to domestic violence, gives them economic security following a divorce or spouse’s death, and improves their overall personal wellbeing.

Being able to collect high-quality, individual-level data on asset ownership and entrepreneurship can be a game-changer.


In general, asset ownership is associated with a bundle of rights. A household member may be classified as a reported owner and/or a documented owner. He/she may also have alienation rights over assets, which is characterized by the rights to sell and to bequeath.

There are also different forms of ownership. Assets can be owned either exclusively or jointly with other individuals.

Data that can shed light on the dynamics of and issues on male-female ownership are limited. Many conventional surveys collect data at the household level, so they don’t identify who owns which specific asset/s and what right/s they have. Collection of individual-level data could help, but it’s hard to collect.

One option is to come up with sex-disaggregated analysis using data from conventional surveys limited to female- versus male-headed households. This information is generally insufficient to understand the intra-household dynamics of asset ownership rights and preferences.

For ADB, filling sex-disaggregated data gaps is crucial for sensitising policymakers and designing policies that promote gender equality by harnessing women’s potential. Being able to collect high-quality, individual-level data on asset ownership and entrepreneurship can be a game-changer.

As part of a regional technical assistance project, ADB conducted pilot EDGE household surveys in 2016 in partnership with the national statistics offices of Georgia, Mongolia and the Philippines to gather individual-level, sex-disaggregated data on ownership and control of 10 different types of productive assets.

Clear gender gap

The findings, not surprisingly, show that women are less likely to be owners of agricultural land. In Georgia, men are twice as likely as women to be documented owners, and 1.4 times as likely to be reported owners.

Gender disparity is also pronounced in Mongolia, where men are roughly 4 times as likely to be either documented or reported owners of agricultural land. In both Mongolia and the Philippine province of Cavite, men are also more likely than women to be owners of agricultural land, but the incidence of ownership is relatively low for both gender groups.

Similarly, in terms of large agricultural equipment, the incidence of ownership among women is still lower than that among men.

According to the EDGE surveys, women are also less likely to own dwellings. Women in Cavite, however, enjoy higher ownership of non-agricultural enterprises, perhaps due to its higher proportion of population living in urban areas than in Georgia and Mongolia.

Regarding the forms of ownership and various rights associated to asset ownership, the data suggest that a plurality of reported owners of assets are either men with exclusive ownership, or couples with joint ownership. This is true in Mongolia and Cavite for dwelling, agricultural land, non-agricultural enterprises, and other real estate, and in Georgia for non-agricultural enterprises.

The findings also show that compared to female asset owners, men are more likely to report having the exclusive right to sell or bequeath core assets such as dwellings and agricultural land.

For instance, the estimates for exclusive right of sale of agricultural land units for men and women owners, respectively, are 33 per cent versus 14 per cent in Georgia, 84 per cent versus 53 per cent in Mongolia, and 58 per cent versus 51 per cent in Cavite.

Moreover, about a fifth of female owners in Georgia report not having the right to sell their owned dwelling units or agricultural land, compared to roughly 15 per cent in Mongolia and Cavite. This means that while women may be considered owners, their bargaining power is limited when it comes to selling these two types of assets.

The data suggest that many women in these countries still face cultural, social, and/or legal barriers that put them at a disadvantage in terms of owning and controlling productive assets. Elsewhere, the same patterns are also likely to be observed, although the relevant sex-disaggregated data using standard and comparable methods that can support such claims remain sparse.

As the pilots show, many countries will require sustained assistance to implement similar surveys. The methodological guidelines that will emanate from EDGE project for collecting sex-disaggregated data will be a breakthrough for gender equality, but it’s only a first step towards giving women their rightful due when it comes to asset ownership.

Kaushal Joshi is the principal statistician, Economic Research and Regional Cooperation Department, at the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Arturo Martinez is a statistician with the ADB. He works on poverty measurement theory and Sustainable Development Goals indicators.

This piece was republished with permission from ADB.

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