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Where have all the young girls gone? Identification of sex selection in India


  • Sonia Bhalotra
  • Tom Cochrane



This paper presents the first estimates of the causal effect of facilities for prenatal sex diagnosis on the sex ratio at birth in India. It conducts a triple difference analysis across cohort, birth order and sex of previous births. Treated births are those that occur after prenatal sex detection becomes available at birth order two or more in families that have not yet had their desired number of sons (or daughters). The three implied control groups are births that occur pre-ultrasound, births of first order and births that occur after the family has achieved its desired sex mix of births. We identify a significant divergence between the treated and control groups. We consider alternative hypotheses and conduct an array of robustness checks to show that the divergence of the sex ratio of the treated group from the normal biological range that characterizes the control groups is on account of female foeticide. We estimate that as many as 0.48 million girls p.a. were selectively aborted during 1995-2005, which is more than the number of girls born in the UK each year. The estimates suggest that Indian families desire two boys and a girl; previous studies often assume that the desire is for at least one boy. The incentive to conduct sex selection is increasing in birth order and family socioeconomic status, both consistent with stronger incentives to sex‐select as fertility approaches its target.

Suggested Citation

  • Sonia Bhalotra & Tom Cochrane, 2010. "Where have all the young girls gone? Identification of sex selection in India," The Centre for Market and Public Organisation 10/254, Department of Economics, University of Bristol, UK.
  • Handle: RePEc:bri:cmpowp:10/254

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    Cited by:

    1. 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.
    2. Zimmermann, Laura V, 2012. "It's a Boy! Women and Non-Monetary Benefits from a Son in India," IZA Discussion Papers 6847, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. Bhalotra, Sonia R. & Chakravarty, Abhishek & Gulesci, Selim, 2016. "The Price of Gold: Dowry and Death in India," IZA Discussion Papers 9679, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    4. Sonia Bhalotra & Abhishek Chakravarty & Dilip Mookherjee & Francisco J. Pino, "undated". "Property Rights and Gender Bias: Evidence from Land Reform in West Bengal," Boston University - Department of Economics - The Institute for Economic Development Working Papers Series dp-281, Boston University - Department of Economics.
    5. repec:eee:jeborg:v:144:y:2017:i:c:p:40-61 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Luojia Hu & Analía Schlosser, 2015. "Prenatal Sex Selection and Girls’ Well‐Being: Evidence from India," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 125(587), pages 1227-1261, September.
    7. Sonia Bhalotra & Irma Clots-Figueras & Lakshmi Iyer, "undated". "Pathbreakers? Women’s Electoral Success and Future Political Participation," Boston University - Department of Economics - The Institute for Economic Development Working Papers Series dp-277, Boston University - Department of Economics.
    8. Maëlys de La Rupelle & Christelle Dumas, 2017. "Health consequences of sterilizations," WIDER Working Paper Series 125, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    9. Pulver, Ariel & Ramraj, Chantel & Ray, Joel G. & O'Campo, Patricia & Urquia, Marcelo L., 2016. "A scoping review of female disadvantage in health care use among very young children of immigrant families," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 152(C), pages 50-60.

    More about this item


    sex selection; abortion; sex ratio; son preference; prenatal sex diagnosis; ultrasound; gender; India; triple difference estimator; differences in differences.;

    JEL classification:

    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination
    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs
    • H40 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - General

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