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Fertility Decline and Son Preference in India

Does fertility decline promote or hinder gender bias in mortality?

Hausarbeit 2011 22 Seiten

VWL - Sonstiges


Table of Contents

1. List of abbreviations

2. Introduction

3. Fertility
3.1. Definition of Fertility
3.2. Fertility Decline in India

4. Genders bias and Mortality
4.1. Origin of and Reasons for Gender Bias
4.2. Data of Gender Bias
4.3. Pre- natal Gender Bias: Abortion in India
4.4. Post- natal Gender Bias: Gender Bias in Child Mortality

5. Contradicting Hypotheses
5.1. Hypotheses 1: Fertility Decline hinders Gender Bias in Mortality
5.2. Hypotheses 2: Fertility Decline promotes Gender Bias in Mortality

6. Empirical Evidence to the Hypotheses: Fertility Decline intensifies Gender Bias in Mortality

7. Conclusion

8. References
8.1. Internet Recources
8.2. Monographs and Working Papers

9. List of Figures
9.1. Figure 1: Child sex ratio 0-6 years and overall sex ratio, India 1961-2011
9.2. Figure 2: Sex Ratio (girls per 1000 boys) of second order births by mother´s level of education
9.3. Figure 3: Infant mortality rate by mother´s education level, India 1992-1993

10. List of Tables
10.1. Table 1: National Family Health Survey (1-3)
10.2. Table 2: Sex ratio of total population and child population in the age group 0-6, India 1961- 2011

1. List of abbreviations

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2. Introduction

Nobel prize winner Amartya Sen was one of the first scientists who explored female discrimination in Asia. Among other things, he examined gender inequality in mortality and natality. Over the last thirty years, several scientists followed Sen and conducted research to find the exact link between gender bias in mortality and fertility. India is an especially popular subject for studies because the country is known for a distinct female discrimination and a rising population

Although, India´s population is today considered to be the second largest population in the world, India´s cencus in 2001 reported a steady fertility decline. At the same time, India´s female to male ratio shows a clear disadvantage of girls. Studies show a steadily declining fertility per women. Whereas, in general, the sex ratio is declining slowly, it is simultaneously rising among children. How are these two variables, fertility and female discrimination, connected? Furthermore, what influence might fertility decline have on gender bias in mortality? Are girls eliminated in favour of boys?

This paper will discuss the relationship between fertility decline and gender bias in mortality. This is a current issue because nobody is able to forsee what impact the missing women might have on India´s future. It is therefore necessary to explore the variables that are connected to gender bias in mortality

In the following, I limit the term “mortality” to pre-natal and infant mortality because this parameter leads to more significant and precise answers. In other words, I will deal with female fetus and infant mortality as a result of gender bias. In addition, I decided to take female education as a third variable into account. Firstly, in order to reduce the variablity of the result and secondly, because according to literature1, female education has a significant independent relation to fertility and to gender bias in mortality. Therefore, one can assume that the use of female education as an endogenous variable could provide information about the influence fertility decline has on female deficit. Accordingly, fertility and gender bias in mortality are specified as exogenous variables. Since the term “fertility” is defined differently by various authors, this paper will start with a definition of the term. Then, it will concentrate on the presence of female discrimination and female deficit in India. Later, two hypotheses will be presented which give two contradicting possible answers to the question whether fertility decline promotes or hinders gender bias in mortality. In the end, empirical data from several sources like the Indian census of 2001, or the Family Health Surves will support one hypotheses and negate the other

3. Fertility

3.1. Definition of Fertility

Women´s fertility is estimated by the total fertility rate (TFR). The TFR “represents the number of children that would be born to a woman if she lived to the end of her childbearing years and bore children at each age, in accordance with the prevailing age- specific fertility rates“ (Murthi, Guiou, Drèze, 1995, p. 757). Moreover, scientific literature use the term TFR as an expanded measure for the birth rate because it is “independent of the age structure of the population“ (Murthi, Guio, Drèze, 1995, p.757). In the following text, this interpretation of the term fertility will be used

3.2. Fertility Decline in India

Over the last decades, fertility decline in India has been reported. According to the first National Family Health Survey (NFHS) of 1992/ 1993, the average total fertility rate per women was 3.4 children. In the next two surveys, NFHS-2 (1998-1999) and NFHS-3 (2005-2006) the TFR per women dropped first to 2.9 and then to 2.7 children. In addition, the percentage of women using any contraceptive method rised significantly from 40.7 in NFHS-1 to 48.2 in NFHS-2 and to 56.3 in NFHS-32. The reduced desired family size was estimated by the fact that during the first survey 59.7 % percent of the questioned women claimed to not want any more children after having given births to two living children. In the second survey this percentag rose to 72.4 % and in the last survey even to 84.6%3

4. Gender Bias and Mortality

4.1. Origin of and Reasons for Gender Bias

In Indian society son preference is still strong. But where does it come from? For centuries, sons have been regarded as heirs, as the ones who sire the next generation and carry on the family name. Furthermore, sons usually inherit property because daughters are married into another family. In addition, sons represent security for their parents in old- age because they are obliged to take care of them. To clarify, sons are a status symbol and important for the family honor. In contrast, daughters have to be married off with the additional burdensome payment of a dowry to the husband´s family. According to Guilmoto (2007) “dowry encompasses cash, gold and other Jewellery [..] and it constitutes the major bulk of marriage expenses, often exceeding several years’ of household income“ (p.22). While it probably costs the same amount of money to raise a son or a daughter, sons are seen as an economic burden in the short run and in the long run as a guarantee for security. Women may cost as much as boys during the childhood (maybe even less due to more limited access to education etc.) but it will be more expensive to marry them off. But how is the situation in modern India today? How is gender bias present? The best way to analyze gender bias is by examining the sex ratio and actions like sex- selective abortion or female infanticide that promote son preference and girl elimination

4.2. Data of Gender Bias

A method to estimate son preference is the sex ratio. With reference to the studies from the United Nations Secretariat of 1998, a “normal“ sex ratio at birth lies between 103 to 106 males per 100 females (Arnold and Kishor, 2002). These numbers are a result of the scientific explanation that “as a matter of biology, the number of boys born is somewhat higher than the numbers of girls born“ (Arnold and Kishor, 2002, p. 764). Due to this statistic, a higher sex ratio than 106 implies a higher girl discrimination because parents are successful in “avoiding the birth of a girl while insuring the birth of a boy“ (Arnold, Kishor and Roy, 2002, p. 766). In fact, the sex ratio at birth in India was 105.1 during the NFHS-1 and 106.9 at the time of NFHS-2. Along with the Indian Cenus of 2001, the sex ratio for the under-six year old children was 107.8 males to 100 females or in other words 927 girls to 1000 boys4. These numbers show a significant rise in the sex ratio since comparatively in 1991 the number was lower with 105.8 boys to 100 girls. Equally important is to know that in some Indian states the sex ratio exceed these numbers by a large margin. For instance in Punjyb, the sex ratio in 2001 was estimated as 126.1 (Arnold, Kishor and Roy, 2002 p.764)

In short, with reference to the United Nations Secretariat results, India´s high sex ratio, especially among the children under the age of six years, is a significant sign for gender bias. But how is gender bias in India pursued?

4.3. Pre-Natal Gender Bias: Abortion in India

To begin with, one explanation for the increasing sex ratio over the last decades is pre-natal technology, namely ultrasound and amniosentesis for sex determination and abortion for sex- selective elimination of fetuses. With the advent of amniosentesis in the 1970s, sex- determination in India became possible. Originally, the technology was intended to discover genetic abnormalities but eventually was used to determine the sex of the foetus. In 1976, the use of technology for foetal determination was prohibited. In 1994 the Indian government then tightened the law by a ban of sex-selective abortion in order to deal with the increasing number of sex-selective abortion5. Nontheless, the sex ratio worsened, and it is obvious that the law is nonexistant in practice (Arnold, Kisor and Roy, 2002). Government statistics from 1996 estimated that 0.6 million legal abortions are performed every year (Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, 1996)

Curiously it should be noted that there is a high probability that the number of abortions is underestimated since some induced abortions might be reported as spontaneous. In addition, the number of illegal abortions is assumed to be eight to eleven times higher than the number of legal ones (Arnold, Kishor, Roy, 2002, p. 761). And yet, one has to keep in mind that “having an abortion […] does not in itself imply the use of technology for sex- selection“ (Arnold, Kishor and Roy, 2002, p. 760). There are two possible reasons for women to have an abortion. First, they use abortion as a method of family planning because the family is not able to afford the child, because the woman´s health is at risk, or because the pregnancy is unwanted. Indeed, pre- natal technology could have found out that the fetus itself was not healthy and abortion can be used to save the family from the burden of a handicapped child. Second, abortion is used by couples to fulfill their desire to have a male child. In this case, parents use sex-determination tests and, according to the result, abort the unwanted female fetus. To demonstrate the second possible explanation, Arnold, Kishor and Roy discovered in their research in 2002 that “the sex ratio at birth is much higher if the mother had ultrasound and is even higher if the mother had amniocentesis“ (p. 775). Furthermore, research has shown, that one of six abortions was performed as the consequence of a sex- determination test (Arnold, Kishor and Roy, 2002)

To conclude, the advent of sex-determination technology and the better availability of abortion techniques led to a rise in the use of both. Nonetheless, son preference is only one reason to perform an abortion. Mainly, unwanted or unplanned pregnancies (independent from the sex of the fetus) have been reported as the reason. Even though, the officially reported explanation could hide the fact that sex-selection was the main reason, since the legal framework for an abortion is strict

4.4. Post- natal Gender Bias: Child Mortality

SRB and abortion rates do not show the elimination of unwanted girls in its full extent. As a matter of fact, sex selection can be pursued after birth as well. It involves a passive strategy with the intention to give girls a lower survival chance than boys by witholding them from access to resources (Guilmoto, 2007). This type of female discrimination is extremely subtle and researchers are unable to explore their impact in its full dimension One way to examine the post-natal gender bias is to look at the infant mortality rate (IMR). Studies in developed countries have shown that, on average, the male infant mortality is higher than female IMR (Waldron 1983; Johansson and Nygren, 1991). Consequently, if the female IMR is higher than the male one, this will be considered to be an evidence for post- birth female deficit and son preference (Srinivasan and Bedi, 2006). India´s IMR in 2011 was estimated to be 47.57 deaths per 1000 live births but it has declined significantly over the years. Moreover, the male IMR was 46.18 deaths per 1000 male live births while the female IMR was 49.14 deaths per 1000 live births (Central Intelligence of the US). Again, it is very likely that the numbers are not accurate but underreported since parents will more likely report the death of a son if he dies at a young age than the death of a daughter (Das Gubta, Chung, Shouzhou, 2009, p.405)

However, the female mortality rate above the age of fifteen has continually improved over the years. Today, it is lower than the mortality rate of males over 25 years (Klasen and Wink, 2002). Obviously, gender bias affects the life expectancy of girls under the age of 6 more than older ones. With reference to the studies of Das Gubta, Chung and Shouzhou in 2009, the sex ratio of child mortality in India is the highest of children under the age of one and declines between the age of one and four years (see Table 1 p.404). This result can be taken as an evidence for female “infanticide and neglect“ (Srinivasan and Bedi, 2006, p. 968). In the same way, one has to look at the variables that might influence the survival of females.


1 See References in the

2 It must be noted that, curiously, the highest percentage of women using contraceptives are women with an education under five years. This will be neglected in the following because no possible interpretation of this fact is known . However it is a fact, that women with education use more contraceptives than the one without any education

3 See Table 1

4 See Table 2 and Figure 2

5 Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act 1994


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Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
Son Preference India fertility decline mortality



Titel: Fertility Decline and Son Preference in India