This study examines the effect of intra-household property rights on household members’ well-being by exploiting the 2011 Chinese divorce reform. This reform transfers ownership of the family home to the registered buyer, most often the husband, in the event of a divorce. Prior to this legal change, the family home was considered joint property. Using data from the China Family Panel Studies (CFPS), a nationally representative survey of Chinese households, I implement a difference-in-differences strategy to compare the outcomes of married individuals in households where only the husband’s name is on the deed and in those where the husband and the wife have equal house ownership status. My findings reveal that in the short term, the 2011 Chinese divorce reform leads to diminished well-being for women in a typical Chinese household where the deed to the marital home is in the husband’s name only. This adverse effect is particularly large for women with perceptions of high divorce risks. No significant effects are found for either women or men living in a household where only the wife’s name is on the deed. The findings provide some evidence supporting the argument that gender constraints override the pattern of how intra-household property rights affect household members’ well-being. In addition to gender-neutral theories, more theories based on gender are needed to describe family dynamics. The findings demonstrate how a seemingly gender-neutral policy can generate gendered consequences. It is critical that policy makers consider implications for intra-household inequality.


Keywords: Divorce Law, Property Rights, Gender Inequality, Patriarchy, Household Bargaining