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Working Paper No. 10-01

Is Sex-Selective Abortion Associated With a Reduction in Gender Differentials in Child Health Investments? Evidence from India
Shatanjaya Dasgupta
September 2010; revised October 2010 and May 2011


India has experienced an imbalance in sex ratios due to the rapid diffusion of sex-selective abortions. This paper tests whether sex-selective abortions have substituted for postnatal discrimination against girls after birth. I identify the demographic groups that exhibit the greatest take up of sex-selective abortions and then check whether these same groups experienced increases in girls' health investments and outcomes. Since sex selection allows parents to choose the gender of their child, the 'substitution hypothesis' predicts that girls who would have experienced the greatest postnatal discrimination will be terminated prenatally instead and so we should observe more equitable investments in male and female children (Goodkind 1996). Data from the National Family and Health Survey indicates that wealthy urban households exhibit the largest sex ratio imbalance. This same group exhibits a relative increase in the duration of breastfeeding for girls. In contrast, the largest reduction in the female disadvantage in postneonatal mortality is observed in poorer rural households who are less likely to practice sex selection. This result could be attributed to falling family sizes which frees up household resources which has allowed investments in girls to increase. Overall, the results suggest that sex selection and postnatal gender discrimination are practiced by different socioeconomic groups.

JEL classification: J13, J16, O15
Keywords: Abortion; gender discrimination; India