Exploratory research on Inheritance, Access to Resources and Family Relations in Senegal

Wlaker Institue logoRuth Evans is conducting an exploratory research project on inheritance practices, access to resources and family relations in Senegal (2011-12, funded by SAGES, RETF and the Walker Institute for Climate System Research, University of Reading). The research aims to explore how and why inheritance practices and inter-vivos resource transfers within families may be changing in Senegal. It will examine the influence of gender, age and generational hierarchies and other factors, such as religion, ethnicity and locality, on family inheritance practices and resource transfers in rural and urban environments. The study will also investigate practices and policies that help widows and orphaned young people to safeguard inheritance and access to assets and avoid chronic poverty.


Fishermen prepare their boats in the Sine-Saloum delta, SenegalThe inheritance of land, property and other assets and resources appears to break poverty cycles and interrupt the intergenerational transmission of poverty (Cooper, 2010). While a growing literature has revealed the ways women are excluded from asset ownership and inheritance in many Sub-Saharan African countries (Deere and Doss 2006), few studies have explored how gender, age and generational inequalities influence both inheritance and inter-vivos transfers (among living people) of resources to family members.

Senegal has experienced rapid environmental, economic and social changes in recent years, including increasing competition for land, climate-related shocks, economic crisis and urbanisation (Hesseling, 2009; Toulmin, 2009). These factors, combined with the large mean size of households (approximately 40% of marriages are polygynous: Bass and Sow, 2006) and discriminatory religious and customary inheritance practices mean that widows and orphaned young people occupy a weak socio-economic bargaining position in gaining ownership and control of land and other assets. This project explores the relationship between asset inheritance and the intergenerational transmission of poverty among the Serer ethnic group in rural and urban environments in Senegal.

Research methods

Women sell fruit and vegetables to generate income for their families in a village market in the Fatick region of SenegalThe research adopts a qualitative methodology informed by a lifecourse perspective. From October - December 2011, a purposive sample of 20 Serer families who had experienced an adult relative's death in recent years was identified in rural areas in the regions of Fatick and Diourbel and in working class districts of Dakar. In-depth interviews were conducted with a total of 51 participants, including:

  • widows and widowers, orphaned young people and extended family members
  • religious and community leaders
  • professionals working on poverty alleviation, women's and children's rights and development in Senegal.

Focus groups were also conducted with two women's groups. The interview and focus group transcripts will be analysed thematically, drawing on relevant theoretical concepts.

Dissemination of the research findings

Preliminary findings from the research were presented at a seminar hosted by the Laboratoire de Recherches sur les Transformations Économiques and Sociales (LARTES), Cheikh Anta Diop University, Dakar in December 2011. Ruth led 6 participatory feedback workshops with participants in the three research locations in Senegal in May 2012, where she discussed the findings and co-produced a DVD with widows, widowers and orphaned young people to highlight their key messages for policymakers and practitioners. The research findings and DVD were presented and discussed further with community members, policymakers and researchers at a seminar hosted by LARTES, Cheikh Anta Diop University, Dakar.

The research report is available to download in English and French. Further academic papers are in preparation.

For more information about the research and DVD, please contact:

Dr. Ruth Evans,
Department of Geography and Environmental Science,
School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science,
University of Reading
PO Box 227
Reading RG6 6AB.
Email: r.evans@reading.ac.uk.


Bass, L. and Sow, F. (2006) 'Senegalese families: the confluence of ethnicity, history and social change', in Oheneba-Sakyi, Y. and Takyi, B. (Eds.), African Families at the Turn of the 21st Century, Praeger Publishers, Westport, pp.83-102.

Cooper, E. (2010) 'Inheritance and the intergenerational transmission of poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa: policy considerations', CPRC Working Paper 159, CPRC.

Deere, C. and Doss, C. (2006) Gender and the Distribution of Wealth in Developing Countries, Research Paper No 2006/115, United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER), Helsinki.

Hesseling, G. (2009) 'Land reform in Senegal: l'histoire se répète?', in Ubink, J., Hoekema, A., Assies, W. (Eds.), Legalising Land Rights: Local practices, state responses and tenure security in Africa, Asia and Latin America, Leiden University Press, pp.243-270.

Toulmin, C. (2009) Climate Change in Africa, Zed Books, London.

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