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It’s a boy! Women and decision-making benefits from a son in India

Laura Zimmermann

World Development, 2018, vol. 104, issue C, 326-335

Abstract: Son preference is widespread in a number of developing countries despite substantial improvements in education levels and economic development. One potential explanation for the persistence of this phenomenon is that individual household members like the mother derive large non-monetary benefits from giving birth to a son and therefore prefer boys to girls. Qualitative evidence suggests that such benefits exist and may depend on the child’s age. This paper uses large nationally representative datasets from India and tests whether having a son leads to higher decision-making powers for mothers than having a daughter. Since the number and gender composition of children is likely to be non-random for families that want a son, I focus on first-born children for whom the sex ratio of girls relative to boys is normal. The main analysis also focuses on young children of up to six months, which gives parents little time to adjust desired birth-spacing intervals that could be systematically correlated with decision-making powers and child gender. The results show little evidence of consistently large female benefits shortly after birth, and any positive impacts of having a son disappear after the first six months. There are also no large benefits for adult sons. These empirical patterns do not support qualitative evidence suggesting that women benefit from the birth of a son through larger decision-making powers in the household because of increased respect by other household members. The benefits also do not heavily depend on the child’s age, which is not consistent with a channel predicting a better bargaining position for women with adult sons who start taking over the running of the household. Overall, these results extend our understanding of individual-specific incentives for son preference.

Keywords: Son preference; Non-monetary benefits; Decision-making power; Intra-household allocation; India; Asia (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2018
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