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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
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  1. Emily Oster, 2006. "Does Increased Access Increase Equality? Gender and Child Health Investments in India," NBER Working Papers 12743, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  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. Robert Retherford & Minja Choe & Shyam Thapa & Bhakta Gubhaju, 1989. "To what extent does breastfeeding explain Birth-interval effects on early childhood mortality?," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 26(3), pages 439-450, August.
  4. Becker, Gary S & Tomes, Nigel, 1976. "Child Endowments and the Quantity and Quality of Children," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 84(4), pages S143-62, August.
  5. Narayan Das, 1987. "Sex preference and fertility behavior: A study of recent Indian data," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 24(4), pages 517-530, November.
  6. Pritchett, Lant H. & DEC, 1994. "Desired fertility and the impact of population policies," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1273, The World Bank.
  7. 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.
  8. Jeffrey Rous, 2001. "Is breast-feeding a substitute for contraception in family planning?," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 38(4), pages 497-512, November.
  9. 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, .
  10. Kazuo Yamaguchi, 1989. "A formal theory for male-preferring stopping rules of childbearing: sex differences in birth order and in the number of siblings," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 26(3), pages 451-465, August.
  11. Rohini Pande, 2003. "Selective gender differences in childhood nutrition and immunization in rural India: The role of siblings," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 40(3), pages 395-418, August.
  12. 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.
  13. Shelley Clark, 2000. "Son preference and sex composition of children: Evidence from india," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 37(1), pages 95-108, February.
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