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Female Disadvantage in Under-Five Mortality in India: Measuring Explicit Gender Discrimination Using Data on Twins (WP-19-10)

Ridhi Kashyap and Julia Behrman

Son preference has been linked to excess female under-five mortality in India and considerable literature explores whether parents invest more resources in sons relative to daughters—which the researchers refer to as explicit discrimination—leading to girls’ poorer health status and consequently, higher mortality. However, this literature does not adequately control for the implicit discrimination processes that sort girls into different types of families (e.g., larger) and at earlier parities. To better address the endogeneity associated with implicit discrimination processes, the researchers explore the association between child sex and post-neonatal under-five mortality using a sample of mixed-sex twins from four waves of the Indian National Family Health Survey. Mixed-sex twins provide a natural experiment that exogenously assigns a boy and a girl to families at the same time, thus controlling for selectivity into having an unwanted female child. They document a sizeable impact of explicit discrimination on girls’ excess mortality in India, particularly compared to a placebo analysis in Africa where girls have a survival advantage. They also show that explicit discrimination has weakened over subsequent birth cohorts since the mid-1990s, especially in northwestern India, thus contributing to understandings of how the micro- processes underlying the female mortality disadvantage have changed over time.

Ridhi Kashyap, Professorial Fellow, Nuffield College, University of Oxford

Julia Behrman, Assistant Professor of Sociology and IPR Fellow, Northwestern University

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