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Department of Economics

EUI researcher Christina Sarah Hauser describes her fieldwork in Tunisia

Christina Sarah Hauser, researcher at the EUI Department of Economics, explains her research and her work in Tunisia.

22 December 2023 | Research

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Please tell us about yourself and your research.

I am a fourth-year PhD researcher at the EUI Department of Economics and I mostly work with experimental methods to better understand policy-relevant issues in development in general and, more specifically, in gender and education. One of my thesis chapters focuses on inheritance law in Tunisia, which – as in most Muslim-majority countries in the world – is based on Islamic inheritance law and systematically favours sons over daughters.

Could you please say more about your research and your focus on Tunisia?

Inheritance law in Tunisia is based on the Koran and the Sunna. The rule regarding bequests from parents to their children implies that a son always receives twice as much of the family’s inheritance as a daughter. This encompasses property, land, and assets.

I worked in Tunisia in 2018 and went back to write my master thesis in 2019. In those years, a large social movement started demanding the introduction of a gender equal inheritance law regime. Tunisia is a very gender-progressive country in many aspects: It legalised abortion earlier than many European countries, tertiary education attainments are today higher for women than for men and Tunisia was also the first country in the Arab world to elect a female prime minister two years ago. Many observers, myself included, therefore expected that a reform introducing gender equal inheritance law would come next. However, things went differently: President Essebsi, who had pushed to modify the law, died in office and the reform proposal was never voted upon. Public opinion regarding the issue was very unclear and I remained puzzled by the Tunisian failure to reform inheritance law. I started to work on this topic more intensively in late 2021, after finishing the first-year coursework at the EUI.

What did you do during your fieldwork and what were your main findings?

I spent two months in Tunisia this year (January and February) to prepare and supervise my study. While in Tunisia, I spent a lot of time discussing my research topic with different people – including feminists, legal experts, and human rights activists. All these inputs helped me gain a better understanding of the issue and finetune the questionnaire of the subsequent quantitative study. In the spring of 2023, I conducted a large-scale phone survey experiment covering the entire country. The data collection was funded by the EUI, by the Office of the Chief Economist for the Middle East and North Africa (MNACE) under the regional Labour and Gender Research Programmes of the World Bank, and by the Laboratory for Effective Anti-Poverty Policies (LEAP) at Bocconi University. I am very grateful for this support.

My study shows that only about one in three Tunisian adults is in favour of introducing gender equal inheritance law. The status quo is, thus, consistent with the policy preferences of the majority of Tunisian adults.

Yet, legal reform is not the only way to increase the wealth transmitted to one’s female descendants. According to the Tunisian civil code, parents can give a gift to a person of their choice, as long as they do it while alive. Gifts to one’s daughter, thus, constitute a possibility to reduce gender discrimination in inheritance. Giving gifts is even advantageous from a fiscal point of view in Tunisia, which is something I exploit in my survey experiment.

My research shows that giving gifts to one’s daughters is not only socially acceptable – much more acceptable than legal reform – but also very common in Tunisia: More than two thirds of my survey respondents approve of the use of gifts to favour one’s daughter and about one in four respondents had either received a gift themselves, made a gift to their daughter or another female family member, or was married to someone who had received a gift. I conclude that gifting constitutes an alternative to reforming inheritance law. However, it is only accessible to a wealthy subsample of the population.

What are the main takeaways from your fieldwork experience?

Building a network of support is crucial. I received a lot of valuable input from colleagues and friends, for example with double-checking the translation of my survey questions into Tunisian Arabic.

While in Tunis, I had many enriching exchanges. A lesson learnt is to get as much input as possible and especially from people with diverse backgrounds. In my case, it was easy to get feedback from feminists and activists. They are well-informed, care a lot about the topic, and are happy to talk to researchers. It was much harder to reach out to people from more conservative backgrounds, but their input was essential for me to gain a better understanding of what was really going on. I found that it was very important to move out of my comfort zone. In the end, feminists and activists are a very specific subgroup of the population.

I am very grateful for the time spent in Tunis. I would generally encourage PhD students to do fieldwork during their PhDs as we have relatively more time to do so than later in our research career. However, you must have a clear project idea as your starting point.

Has being an EUI researcher facilitated your fieldwork experience? What do you believe is the added value of being a PhD researcher at the EUI?

At the EUI, I have two supervisors, Sule Alan and Alessandro Tarozzi, who are both development economists and have a lot of experience working with experimental methods. They have been supporting me throughout all the stages of my PhD, and especially on the project to pursue my own data collection in Tunisia.

I am very grateful for the superb supervision I have received at the EUI. Researchers at the EUI Department of Economics have two supervisors, which I see as a clear advantage relative to other programmes: We receive more diverse inputs and feedback. Moreover, supervisors at the EUI only teach at the PhD level – there are no undergraduate students – which means that they can dedicate more time to their doctoral students than in similar programmes in other universities.

One of the many things I love about the EUI is that it is a research institute entirely dedicated to the social sciences, not a business school, and whoever you interact with at the EUI deeply cares about policy.

The EUI is also a very supportive environment for doing research that goes beyond the traditional disciplinary borders like mine. During my second year, I had the opportunity to attend classes from the Department of Political and Social Sciences, which allowed me to get inspiration and feedback from political scientists and sociologists. Finally, the faculty members and staff at the EUI are very competent and helpful, which really helps researchers in all the stages of our PhDs.


Christina Sarah Hauser is a researcher at the EUI Department of Economics. Christina’s research focuses on development economics, more precisely on gender and education. Visit her website for more information about Christina and her research. 

Learn more about how to apply for the EUI Doctoral Programme in Economics.

Last update: 22 December 2023

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