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Why Do Mothers Breastfeed Girls Less Than Boys? Evidence and Implications for Child Health in India

  • Seema Jayachandran
  • Ilyana Kuziemko

Medical research indicates that breastfeeding suppresses post-natal fertility. We model the implications for breastfeeding decisions and test the model's predictions using survey data from India. First, we find that breastfeeding increases with birth order, since mothers near or beyond their desired total fertility are more likely to make use of the contraceptive properties of nursing. Second, given a preference for having sons, mothers with no or few sons want to conceive again and thus limit their breastfeeding. We indeed find that daughters are weaned sooner than sons, and, moreover, for both sons and daughters, having few or no older brothers results in earlier weaning. Third, these gender effects peak as mothers approach their target family size, when their decision about future childbearing (and therefore breastfeeding) is highly marginal and most sensitive to considerations such as ideal sex composition. Because breastfeeding protects against water- and food-borne disease, our model also makes predictions regarding health outcomes. We find that child-mortality patterns mirror those of breastfeeding with respect to gender and its interactions with birth order and ideal family size. Our results suggest that the gender gap in breastfeeding explains 14 percent of excess female child mortality in India, or about 22,000 "missing girls" each year.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15041.

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Date of creation: Jun 2009
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Publication status: published as Seema Jayachandran & Ilyana Kuziemko, 2011. "Why Do Mothers Breastfeed Girls Less than Boys? Evidence and Implications for Child Health in India," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 126(3), pages 1485-1538.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15041
Note: CH HC HE
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  1. Fred Arnold & Sunita Kishor & T. K. Roy, 2002. "Sex-Selective Abortions in India," Population and Development Review, The Population Council, Inc., vol. 28(4), pages 759-785.
  2. Behrman, Jere R., 1988. "Nutrition, health, birth order and seasonality : Intrahousehold allocation among children in rural India," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 28(1), pages 43-62, February.
  3. Narayan Das, 1987. "Sex preference and fertility behavior: A study of recent Indian data," Demography, Springer, vol. 24(4), pages 517-530, November.
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  5. Rohini Pande, 2003. "Selective gender differences in childhood nutrition and immunization in rural India: The role of siblings," Demography, Springer, vol. 40(3), pages 395-418, August.
  6. Jeffrey Rous, 2001. "Is breast-feeding a substitute for contraception in family planning?," Demography, Springer, vol. 38(4), pages 497-512, November.
  7. Pritchett, Lant H. & DEC, 1994. "Desired fertility and the impact of population policies," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1273, The World Bank.
  8. Ansley J. Coale, 1960. "Introduction to "Demographic and Economic Change in Developed Countries"," NBER Chapters, in: Demographic and Economic Change in Developed Countries, pages 3-15 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Oster, Emily, 2009. "Does increased access increase equality? Gender and child health investments in India," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(1), pages 62-76, May.
  10. Shelley Clark, 2000. "Son preference and sex composition of children: Evidence from india," Demography, Springer, vol. 37(1), pages 95-108, February.
  11. George B. Roberts, Chairman, Universities-National Bureau Committee for Economic Research, 1960. "Demographic and Economic Change in Developed Countries," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number univ60-2, May.
  12. Becker, Gary S & Lewis, H Gregg, 1973. "On the Interaction between the Quantity and Quality of Children," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 81(2), pages S279-88, Part II, .
  13. Rosenzweig, Mark R & Wolpin, Kenneth I, 1980. "Testing the Quantity-Quality Fertility Model: The Use of Twins as a Natural Experiment," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 48(1), pages 227-40, January.
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