Working Paper No. 12-01

Son Preference and Gender Gaps in Child Nutrition: Does the Level of Female Autonomy Matter?
Shatanjaya Dasgupta
February 2012; revised April 2012


This paper first examines whether gender gaps in child nutrition are evident in the presence of parental son preference and then tests if this relationship varies with the level of female autonomy. Using data from the 2005-06 round of the National Family and Health Survey, direct measures of son preference and status of female autonomy are derived from responses of couples in rural Indian households. When mothers have a son preference, gender gaps in child nutrition are observed if she is involved in making household decisions. This suggests that mothers, who are primarily responsible for the nutrition needs of small children, are able to act on their son preference when they have autonomy in decision making. In contrast, no independent association is found between child nutrition outcomes and paternal preferences.

JEL classification: I12, J16, O53
Keywords: Nutrition Standards; Son preference; India