Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Childrenomics part 2 - gender preference

Some societies have preference over boys. Perhaps because boys will carry the family's name, but also because they can rely on their boys to do heavy works. Other societies prefer to have girls; because in their cultures girls are responsible to take care of their parents in the old days. Or, parents may not have any preference over a certain gender, but they want to have both genders in the family. Each preference will have implications in the size and resource allocation of the family.

One implication of gender preference is gender discrimination - in terms of within-household resource allocation. Deaton (1989) measured the boy-girl discrimination in terms of the 'reduction of household expenditure on adult goods.' (Adult goods: tobacco, adult clothing, alcohol, eating out, etc.). When a kid is valued more, parents will be more willing to reduce their spending on adult goods. He found no evidence of gender discrimination in Cote d'Ivoire, and a small and insignificant bias in favor of boys in Thailand.

We can also measure boy-girl discrimination in terms of health outcome. Using data from rural Punjab, India, Monica Das Gupta (1987) found that the mortality rate of children below one month is higher for boys. However, as the children gets older, girls mortality rate surpasses boys. Child mortality rate is also much higher for girls who were born as the second child and over.

The fact that boys have higher probability to die within a month after birth is quite logical. Boys have the XY chromosome, while girls have XX. Remember that the Y chromosome is a 'mutated' version of the X - means that boys are by nature mutants (the 'defect' version of girls). That makes boys are more prone to death, which explains the higher rate of postnatal mortality rate. The higher rate of girl mortality rate at the older age reflects the different treatment of parents. For example, girls receive lower nutrition, less clothing etc. And the value of girls is even less when parents have already had more survived children.

My professor at Harvard, Robert Jensen (2006) raised another issue. Parents may not necessarily discriminate against girls (or boys). But they may still prefer a certain gender (let's say, boy). When the first child is a girl, parents is more likely to have another one. When the second one is still a girl, it is more likely for them to have a third one, and so forth. As the result, girls tend to come from big families. Even though parents don't discriminate, coming from big families, girls will have smaller allocation of household resources ("equal treatment, unequal outcome").

How true is that? The answer can't be theoretical - it should be empirical. That may also depend on where do we do the research. But according to his preliminary finding, some Indian states where preference over boys are strong tend to confirm this results.

Childrenomics | Gender


  1. I don't know of any cultures where girls are preferred. Any examples?

    I thought it was kinda logical that boys were preferred, as males are (possibly) more productive in societies that rely heavily on physical labour --therefore it's nice to have them around.

    Did you forget the third decision -- i.e. not to have kids? Happens when societies identify the ills of overpopulation or when wealth doesn't depend (or poss -vely) on children (1st world countries).

  2. some parts in Indonesia does prefer girls than boys. they follow matriachal pattern rather than the patriachal that rest of the world use. The girls keep the family house, land and other wealth. They exist in the several part in Sumatra. Javaness people, despite they would slightly prefer boys to girls, they would still expecting at least one girl in the family to take care of the parents once their old.

    Though i must say, this subject is very gender-sensitive issue.

  3. The Minang are a matriarchal society, right? Always found that interesting, but know little about the details...

  4. I did research on sex preference on Indonesian household by using Susenas data (well this is my undergrad thesis). I found that Indonesian families prefer girls to boys. One reason is because of what ap said--caring parents. But, what interesting most for me is that Javanese families also prefer girls to boys. The reason is related to javanese culture. In javanese culture, father is considered the leader and ideal person. However it is mother who takes key roles--deciding her children's spouses, marriage, household resource allocation and so on (See Frans Magnis Suseno book about Javanese culture). As Javanese culture is "avoiding conflict", Javanese parents are more likely to live in their daughter houses--because they can easily influence household allocation resources without making conflict. that's why Javanese families prefers girls to boys. But i'm not realy sure that it applies on time-series trend. Using panel-data rather than cross-section data perhaps can capture this behavior.

  5. wow, that's interesting yudo. i heard that balinese hope for boys, and then thought javanese would be the same... obviously not!

  6. Ah -- forgot to mention my own mate's work. Yes, Yudo did an excellent research on that topic. Well, he himself is in a better position to explain his work anyway.

    I think part of the reason for having girl is in some cultures like Javanese, it is the responsibility of the bride's family to hold the wedding ceremony. And part of the family status is 'evaluated' by this kind of ceremony.

    Holding ceremony may also involve 'transfers' -- the angpao money. Maybe that's why the Betawi family would like to have at least a girl in the family so the wedding ceremony would be hold in their place.

    On another thing -- Rozensweig and a co-author (year???) once did a research on 'patrilochal exogamy' in some Indian agriculture village. In their culture, when they get married, girls are 'exported' to the man's family, while they 'import' girls married to their son. Usually, marriage involve a girl and a boy from different village, and most of the time distant village.

    The authors argued that this is a kind of risk management. When their village experience a drought or bad harvest, they can rely on their daughter in the distant village for transfer (food, money). By 'placing' their daughter in a distant village, they expect that the risk (drought, bad harvest) would not be idiosyncratic.

    When the family has more than two girls, the authors continued, they tend to marry them with boys from different villages as well.