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Exploring the Causal Machinery behind Sex Ratios at Birth: Does Hepatitis B Play a Role?

Amar Hamoudi

Economic Development and Cultural Change, 2010, vol. 59, issue 1, 1-21

Abstract: The causal machinery underlying sex determination is directly relevant to many questions relating gender and family composition to social and economic outcomes. In recent work, Oster highlighted a correlation between parental hepatitis B carrier status and sex of the child. One of her analyses went further, speaking directly to causality. That analysis appeared to have answered an important question that had remained unresolved in medical and biological literatures-namely, does chronic infection with hepatitis B cause male-skewed sex ratios at birth? Oster's creative empirical analysis appeared to suggest that it does; however, in this article I reassess the result and present evidence that, at the very least, the question remains open. Further investigation into questions around the causal machinery of sex determination is warranted in the social science literature, as well as in that of biology and medicine. However, my results suggest that it is extremely unlikely that chronic hepatitis B infection plays a biologically significant role. (c) 2010 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.

Date: 2010
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