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Hepatitis B Does Not Explain Male-Biased Sex Ratios in China


  • Emily Oster
  • Gang Chen


Earlier work (Oster, 2005) has argued, based on existing medical literature and analysis of cross country data and vaccination programs, that parents who are carriers of hepatitis B have a higher offspring sex ratio (more boys) than non-carrier parents. Further, since a number of Asian countries, China in particular, have high hepatitis B carrier rates, Oster (2005) suggested that hepatitis B could explain a large share { approximately 50% { of Asia's \missing women". Subsequent work has questioned this conclusion. Most notably, Lin and Luoh (2008) use data from a large cohort of births in Taiwan and find only a very tiny effect of maternal hepatitis carrier status on offspring sex ratio. Although this work is quite conclusive for the case of mothers, it leaves open the possibility that paternal carrier status is driving higher sex offspring sex ratios. To test this, we collected data on the offspring gender for a cohort of 67,000 people in China who are being observed in a prospective cohort study of liver cancer; approximately 15% of these individuals are hepatitis B carriers. In this sample, we find no effect of either maternal or paternal hepatitis B carrier status on offspring sex. Carrier parents are no more likely to have male children than non-carrier parents. This finding leads us to conclude that hepatitis B cannot explain skewed sex ratios in China.

Suggested Citation

  • Emily Oster & Gang Chen, 2008. "Hepatitis B Does Not Explain Male-Biased Sex Ratios in China," NBER Working Papers 13971, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13971
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. 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.
    2. Ming-Jen Lin & Ming-Ching Luoh, 2008. "Can Hepatitis B Mothers Account for the Number of Missing Women? Evidence from Three Million Newborns in Taiwan," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(5), pages 2259-2273, December.
    3. Monica Das Gupta, 2005. "Explaining Asia's "Missing Women": A New Look at the Data," Population and Development Review, The Population Council, Inc., vol. 31(3), pages 529-535.
    4. Emily Oster, 2005. "Hepatitis B and the Case of the Missing Women," CID Working Papers 7, Center for International Development at Harvard University.
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    Cited by:

    1. Hongbin Li & Junjian Yi & Junsen Zhang, 2011. "Estimating the Effect of the One-Child Policy on the Sex Ratio Imbalance in China: Identification Based on the Difference-in-Differences," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 48(4), pages 1535-1557, November.
    2. Alexander Stimpfle & David Stadelmann, 2016. "Does Central Europe Import the Missing Women Phenomenon?," CREMA Working Paper Series 2016-04, Center for Research in Economics, Management and the Arts (CREMA).
    3. Maristella Botticini & Aloysius Siow, 2011. "Are There Increasing Returns to Scale in Marriage Markets?," Working Papers 395, IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University.

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    JEL classification:

    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination

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