Property Rights and Innovation Dynamism: The Role of Women Inventors

How do stronger property rights for disadvantaged groups affect innovation? I study the impact of strengthening property rights for women on US innovation by analyzing the Married Women’s Property Acts that granted equal property rights to women starting in 1845 in New York State. I use the universe of granted patents from 1790 until 1901 and exploit the staggered adoption of the laws over time across states. Strengthening women’s property rights led to a 39% increase in patenting activity among women in the long run, with effects peaking about a decade after the laws were introduced. Importantly, female innovations were not of lower quality (as measured by a novelty index based on patent text analysis) and there were no negative effects on male innovation. Hence, as well as improving equity the laws increased aggregate innovation. I show that the main mechanism was through innovation incentives rather than an increase in human capital, labor force participation or relieving financial frictions.