A Colonial Legacy of African Gender Inequality? Evidence from Christian Kampala, 1895-2011

Meier zu Selhausen, F. and Weisdorf, J.

The colonial legacy of African underdevelopment is widely debated but hard to document.We use occupational statistics from Protestant marriage registers of historical Kampala to investigatethe hypothesis that African gender inequality and female disempowerment are rooted in colonialtimes. We find that the arrival of Europeans in Uganda ignited a century- long transformation ofKampala involving a gender Kuznets curve. Men rapidly acquired literacy and quickly found theirway into white-collar (high-status) employment in the wage economy built by the Europeans. Womentook somewhat longer to obtain literacy and considerably longer to enter into white-collar and wagedwork. This led to increased gender inequality during the first half of the colonial period. But genderinequality gradually declined during the latter half of the colonial era, and after Uganda’sindependence in 1962 its level was not significantly different from that of pre-colonial times. Our datasupport Boserup’s view that gender inequality was rooted in native social norms: daughters of Africanmen who worked in the traditional, informal economy were less well educated, less frequentlyemployed in formal work, and more often subjected to marital gender inequality than daughters ofmen employed in the modernized, formal economy created by the Europeans.