ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Women’s Education and Declining Child Sex Ratios in India

Missing Girls

Sex ratios in India have been declining for decades, and “missing girls” are a serious social and political problem. Drawing on subdistrict-level data from the 2001 and 2011 Censuses and detailed data on women’s education and fertility, we show that more-educated mothers have fewer girl children than less-educated mothers, but that these girls are also more likely to survive. The policy implication of these findings is that among uneducated mothers, the focus should be on child treatment and survival; among educated mothers, attitudinal campaigns that emphasise the value of having girl children are likely to be more successful.

In 1990, Amartya Sen brought the palpable demographic, social, and political problem of “missing girls” to the world’s attention (Sen 1990). Nearly 30 years later, on 21 January 2017, the Economist (2017) declared that “the war on baby girls is winding down.” The Economist was not the first to trumpet India’s sex ratio improvements: its report drew on data from the 2011 Census of India (GOI 2011), which showed that the country’s overall female-to-male ratio had increased since the 2001 Census (GOI 2001). Sex ratio gains in the overall population are important, but there is a problem with relying on population-wide statistics: in India, the child sex ratio—the share of young girls to young boys in a population1—continued to decline over the same period, indicating that the “missing girls” problem has remained a pressing concern.

The underlying cause for declining child sex ratios across the world is well known: cultural preferences for sons have r­esulted in more girls than boys dying because of female infanticide and neglect. With the increasing availability of prenatal sex determination technologies, female foetuses can be (and are) selectively aborted more often than male foetuses (Bha­lotra and Cochrane 2010; Guilmoto 2009; Jha et al 2011; Madan and Breuning 2014). How can we change cultural preferences for sons and, thereby, the trend of ever-declining child sex ratios?

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Updated On : 9th Feb, 2021

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