The missing link between parents' preferences and daughters' survival: the moderator effect of societal discrimination

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Echavarri, Rebeca ; Husillos, Javier (2016)

The premature mortality of female children is an alarming demographic outcome in many countries of the world. The most popular explanation for this phenomenon is the prevalence of son preference. However, empirical findings indicate that the assumption of a positive relationship between wanted daughters and female children’s survival is not found in every scenario, and it does not have a clear explanation in the literature. To fill this gap, we present a simple model that provides insights into how the positive marginal effect of wanted daughters on their survival might decrease with higher societal discrimination against young females. The model draws on the emerging literature that examines the erosion of cognitive and noncognitive skills that result from poverty and discrimination. Our theoretical findings are tested for the case of India, using the third round of the National Family Health Survey, with zero-inflated Poisson models. Our estimates provide support for the interaction of parents’ preferences and societal discrimination against female children. In particular, we show that the statistical significance of the marginal effect of wanted daughters on their survival disappears in contexts of high societal discrimination against female children. Our study contributes to the literature by questioning the commonly held assumption of additive separability between the effect of family and societal characteristics. One central implication is that the alleviation of poverty alone might fail to automatically reduce sex-based discriminatory practices, and that multidimensional interventions are required that target the individual and society.
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