Maybe British common law wasn’t so great for colonies after all

Legal Origins and Female HIV

Siwan Anderson

More than one-half of all people living with HIV are women, and 80 percent of all HIV-positive women in the world live in sub-Saharan Africa. This paper demonstrates that the legal origins of these formerly colonized countries significantly determine current-day female HIV rates. In particular, female HIV rates are significantly higher in common law sub-Saharan African countries compared to civil law ones. This paper explains this relationship by focusing on differences in female property rights under the two codes of law. In sub-Saharan Africa, common law is associated with weaker female marital property laws. As a result, women in these common law countries have lower bargaining power within the household and are less able to negotiate safe sex practices and are thus more vulnerable to HIV, compared to their civil law counterparts. Exploiting the fact that some ethnic groups in sub-Saharan Africa cross country borders with different legal systems, we are able to include ethnicity fixed effects into a regression discontinuity approach. This allows us to control for a large set of cultural, geographical, and environmental factors that could be confounding the estimates. The results of this paper are consistent with gender inequality (the “feminization” of AIDS), explaining much of its prevalence in sub-Saharan Africa.

That is from the latest American Economic Review.  Here is an earlier version and related material.


Has to be the Brits fault and their legal system, there is no possible other explanation.

We Brits should have aborted that mess known as the States if it means having reality telly for President.

How's Brexit going?

Wir hätten die Deutschen dich besiegen lassen sollen.

The high HIV rates are cultural not legal. The people who live in sub-Saharan Africa enjoy sex with multiple partners and it is their culture and they do not discourage their own children from this promiscuity.

It is interesting that the "take" on this in the story is that since 80% of the HIV infections are female it must be some kind of discrimination and thus a terrible thing. But what they don't say is the actual infection rate is pretty even between men and women but over the last 30 years or so most of the men who contracted HIV have died and if the stats are correct leaving only 20% of living men with HIV. So the story is bassackwards. Perhaps, by the author's logic, British common law is most harmful to men's health.

Reading comprehension, dude!!!

Look at what 80% describes once more.

"We Brits should have aborted..."

Did you have an option? First settlers were running away from the shitshow England. Formalities were later. Odd thing was the mother turned out to be the abortion, so I guess not an apt analogy.

Bit of clickbait title there TC. Pathway here is something like; traditional common law (pre1960s) -> separate marital property -> lower female threat power during (no, "I'll divorce and take half the money!" so loathed by redpill) -> more "liberated" male sexuality ( in their words) -> higher female HIV.

While the result at the end of that chain is "not good", it's not clear to me at all that all the intermediate stages and "not good", and that the real drivers for HIV spread in Africa do not lie elsewhere.

I've got to troll this. I started reading (the pdf) and was off-put by the shrill tone. Hadn't checked the author, but then I did. Yup, some woman (apparently with an agenda). Went back to reading, stopped upon encountering her enormously unprofessional comment that civil law "outshines" common law. What can one conclude when comparing the results of A SINGLE common law colonial power with a half-dozen Western European civil law colonial powers? There is obviously (for anyone not mathematically illiterate) not enough power to differentiate between England's specific effects and common law's general effects. It's a sample of ONE, for gosh sakes. Pathetic.

Really. Isn't common law versus civil law synonymous with being a former British colony versus being a former colony of someone else? And aren't there a thousand social and cultural differences that would result from that? Really silly work, and a reminder of why, as taxpayers, we should be working to cut university budgets, so we won't be subject to such drivel.

Who cares. HIV is harmless. AIDS is a fake disease created to make money from gays that destroyed their bodies with drugs.

I remember reading about the supposed African AIDS epidemic in the 1990s. It's been 20 years and there are more Africans than ever before.

I don't think that HIV/AIDS is fake by any means. But the reporting on HIV infection rates in Africa is nonsense. We have no idea what the real state of HIV in Africa is - it is not as if people who struggle to provide an aspirin are doing a lot of testing. However it is clearly not high. As said above - the African population is not declining despite the fact that a tenth or a quarter or whatever of the population has been reported to be HIV positive for the past 40 years.

It is a lie.

About 4% of African immigrants to the UK carry HIV. They are young, urban professionals and so *more* likely to have the disease than the average African. So the real rate is certainly lower than 4%.

Which means this study is nonsense. It is more likely that Civil Law countries tell their doctors to under-report.

"AIDS is a fake disease created to make money from gays that destroyed their bodies with drugs."

Yeah, and all those kids who needed blood transfusions were heavy drug users too.

Not Lebanese, but I wonder how their AIDS rates compare to their neighbors in West Africa?

Meaning, obviously, Lebanese diaspora in West Africa. And I don't think the Lebanese ever had common law, nor a history of non-subjetification in modern times. So, what's really going on? Tyler knows, but will never say. Neo-Stalinism.

there was nothing good about british colonies.
India is the best example: the parts of India which were NOT british colonies were thriving while the rest was dirt poor.

Yeah because Bombay is such a dump while Nepal is doing great.

Bad comparison.

Bombay was where the British lived (they created the city, after all), so it prospered. The hinterland, not so much. Same with Calcutta. British-ruled provinces fared poorer on average than native-ruled ones, big city exceptions like Bombay and Calcutta notwithstanding. Bihar, which was part of Clive's conquest, is still a byword for poverty (in India.)

Mumbai prospered because it was > 50% Gujarati. (Surat in Gujarat was the original East India Company base on the west coast. They later moved to Mumbai after receiving it as a dowry from the marriage of a Portugese princess into the royal family.) Even in Calcutta, a lot of the commercial activity was in the hands of Gujarati and Marwadi merchants.

I'm from Kathiawad (the peninsular part of Gujarat) which was not part of British India. It also thrived during that era despite being split into 202 princely states.

Conclusion: it is the nature of the people (i.e. ultimately genetics) that is the dispositive factor in progress not the system of government.

However this is not to say British influence counted for nothing. Those 202, Rajas, Maharajas, Nawabs, and Thakurs, were incessantly at odds with each other and they usually settled their quarrels on the battlefield. Plus they funded their battles by periodically raiding the villagers and merchants for needed funds which was not a stable way to run an economy.

Rajkot, my home town was the base of a British agent who while usually not directly interfering with the affairs of the rulers served as a remainder that there was a bigger power that could intervene if things got out of hand.

Rajkot was also the seat of the Rajasthanik court staffed by British and Indian judges. (Mahatma Gandhi's father was a judge there and Gandhiji trained as a lawyer with the expectation he would become one too.) The court provided a forum where disputes could be resolved without resorting to violence and introduced ideas from English law into the traditional legal frameworks.

The British also established Rajkumar college in Rajkot where the young princes (and later other rich boys) could be taught how to be proper English gentlemen. The instruction in Shakespeare, and ballroom dancing do not seem to have had much effect but the threat of being kicked of the cricket team probably averted a few wars. Also the new generation of rulers learned about concepts such as regular taxation much to the relief of everyone else.

So overall I would say this light touch British influence was a net positive especially when compared to both colonization and traditional monarchy.

Infant mortality fell, life expectancy rose, literacy improved, national rail network, professional civil service and legal system mostly staffed by Indians and widows weren’t thrown into fires.

Nothing good.

The article does not even begin to examine many of the factors that arguably drive the transmission of HIV in southern Africa. To begin with, there's the role of the labor migration system that evolved together with South Africa's gold mines. The men who work in the mines typically lived far away from their families most of the year, leading to a boom in prostitution etc. (About a decade ago, Deloitte estimated that roughly one-third of miners are infected with HIV within 18 months of working on the mines.) When they then visit their families, the disease spreads to women in rural areas - not only in South Africa, but also in e.g. Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe. See e.g.

Then there's the role of ignorance - all the way to the top. For example, both former SA president Thabo Mbeki and his health minister, Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, denied the connection between HIV and Aids, labelled antiretroviral drugs poison, and insisted that it was better treated with e.g. garlic, lemon, African potatoes and beetroot. (See e.g. ). And let's not even talk about former president Jacob Zuma of I-took-a-shower-so-I-won't-get-Aids fame. The problem here is not the presence of common law, but the absence of common sense (never mind scientific knowledge).

Here's a little anecdote that hints at another aspect of the ignorance angle. Roughly three decades ago, while I was serving in the South African Defence Force, I had to explain to my troops what HIV/Aids is, and why it mattered to them. It turned out to be a near impossible task. They were largely illiterate men from Angola - many of them had not seen the inside of a school building before they joined Holden Roberto's FNLA when civil war broke out in Angola in '75 - and thus did not have the faintest idea what e.g. a "virus" is. This made it rather difficult to give them any working idea of what they were up against.

page 1412 is the best.

Common-law countries reformed married laws during the 1960s to split marriage assets between spouses after marriage end (death, divorce).

Around the same time, the British Empire collapsed and territories in Africa gained independence. Along 1960s and 1970s , the new countries were busy with struggles for power and dictators while feminist reforms were advancing around the world.

The HIV link highlights the consequences of living under 19th century laws. The correlation between legal systems and HIV infection rates is there, but when the author uses "determine", I think the data is not enough to establish causality.

However, the liberal use of "determine" is not a major problem. If you mind it, there's still a lot of good information. Now, I see better how this countries are in serious troubles. Power struggles after independence made them miss the Green Revolution,feminist reforms and many things more.

"There are, however, important heterogeneous effects within civil law
countries. In marital property does not apply to polygynous marriages or to Muslims. The default property regime for both of these groups is instead separate marital property. We should therefore not expect to find a significant correlation between a common law system and female property rights in these two populations. For them the default regime is separate marital property in both civil and common law countries."

So why bother distinguishing between common law and civil law when what matters is separate marital property v. community marital property, that is, other than to make common law look bad.

"Moreover, [this paper] suggests the sorts of policies that could easily be implemented to enhance female rights and reduce infection."

Easily? Says someone with no particular political, cultural, economic, or social expertise of those countries even assuming that it's desirable (which is a conclusion that she jumped to without any other considerations other than her personal preferences).

Much of American law is being codified, so our law has become something of a hybrid (although in law schools law continues to be taught primarily by reading court opinions (i.e., the common law)). There are many more codes today than when I was in law school, covering everything from dissolution of marriage and marital (property) rights to strict liability. What to make of this transition from common law to civil law. One, the difference in the two is the difference between deductive and inductive reasoning: deductive reasoning requires application of generalized principles (the common law) to a specific instance while inductive reasoning requires application of a specific instance into a generalized principle (the code).

The advantage of civil law is that it is more predictable. Two early codes, which we studied in depth in law school, were the uniform commercial code and the corporate law code, two areas of the law where predictability is considered of paramount importance. The disadvantage of civil law is that it is more predictable: almost every instance is unique, and generalized principles may not fit very well. A practical difference between countries that are based on the common law (such as our law) and countries that are based on civil law (codes) is that contracts in the latter countries are much shorter (the codes fill in the blanks).

Flexibility vs. predictability. In science, the weakness of the inductive argument is that, while the conclusion of a deductive argument is certain, the truth of the conclusion of an inductive argument may be only probable, based upon the evidence given. One could make the same observation about the difference between common law and civil law. One could also make this observation about American law: even in areas with codes, judges will engage in highly creative mental gymnastics to reach a result that is improbable based on the code, but fits the judge's idea of the correct result in the particular instance. Even with all of the codes, we are still a nation of judges (the
common law) and not law (codes).

I hate to be that guy, but correlation does not equal causation ...

There is no such thing as British Common Law. You presumably mean English Common Law.

Well, that's some tortured logic. There's some woman out there- can't remember her name right now, but she put out a book sometime in the past decade, where she basically admitted she (they) lied about AIDS. And she felt it was important to lie about AIDS because lying about AIDS helped her and her leftist buddies achieve goals. And lying about AIDs in Africa, well, that's like the easiest lie of all, because we don't even have good populations stats, much less enough real testing to get a real picture of whats going on there.
So this looks like a rather inventive piece of fiction, resting on the piles of other pieces of fiction.

Comments for this post are closed