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Hepatitis B and the Case of the Missing Women

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  • Emily Oster

Abstract

In many Asian countries the ratio of male to female population is higher than in the West: as high as 1.07 in China and India, and even higher in Pakistan. A number of authors (most notably Amartya Sen) have suggested that this imbalance reflects excess female mortality and have argued that as many as 100 million women are "missing." This paper proposes an explanation for some of the observed overrepresentation of men: the hepatitis B virus. I present new evidence, consistent with an existing scientific literature, that carriers of the hepatitis B virus have offspring sex ratios around 1.50 boys for each girl. This evidence includes both cross-country analyses and a natural experiment based on recent vaccination campaigns. Hepatitis B is common in many Asian countries, especially China, where some 10–15 percent of the population is infected. Using data on prevalence of the virus by country and estimates of the effect of hepatitis on the sex ratio, I argue that hepatitis B can account for about 45 percent of the "missing women": around 75 percent in China, between 20 and 50 percent in Egypt and western Asia, and under 20 percent in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal.

Suggested Citation

  • Emily Oster, 2005. "Hepatitis B and the Case of the Missing Women," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 113(6), pages 1163-1216, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jpolec:v:113:y:2005:i:6:p:1163-1216
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    File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/498588
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Daron Acemoglu & David H. Autor & David Lyle, 2004. "Women, War, and Wages: The Effect of Female Labor Supply on the Wage Structure at Midcentury," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(3), pages 497-551, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Oster, Emily & Chen, Gang & Yu, Xinsen & Lin, Wenyao, 2010. "Hepatitis B does not explain male-biased sex ratios in China," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 107(2), pages 142-144, May.
    2. Ibragimov, Rustam, 2008. "Heavy-tailedness and threshold sex determination," Statistics & Probability Letters, Elsevier, vol. 78(16), pages 2804-2810, November.
    3. Valente, Christine, 2014. "Access to abortion, investments in neonatal health, and sex-selection: Evidence from Nepal," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 107(C), pages 225-243.
    4. Shang-Jin Wei & Xiaobo Zhang, 2011. "Sex Ratios, Entrepreneurship, and Economic Growth in the People's Republic of China," NBER Working Papers 16800, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Nandi, Arindam & Deolalikar, Anil B., 2013. "Does a legal ban on sex-selective abortions improve child sex ratios? Evidence from a policy change in India," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 103(C), pages 216-228.
    6. Ferreira, Francisco H. G. & Walton, Michael, 2006. "Inequality of opportunity and economic development," Policy Research Working Paper Series 3816, The World Bank.
    7. V. Bhaskar, 2011. "Sex Selection and Gender Balance," American Economic Journal: Microeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 3(1), pages 214-244, February.
    8. Levy, Douglas E. & Meara, Ellen, 2006. "The effect of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement on prenatal smoking," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 25(2), pages 276-294, March.
    9. repec:eee:thpobi:v:92:y:2014:i:c:p:14-21 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Das Gupta, Monica, 2008. "Does Hepatitis B infection or son preference explain the bulk of gender imbalance in China ? : a review of the evidence," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4502, The World Bank.
    11. Chakraborty, Tanika, 2015. "Trade Liberalization in a Traditional Society: Implications for Relative Female Survival," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 74(C), pages 158-170.

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