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The Gender Weight Gap: Sons, Daughters, and Maternal Weight

  • Pham-Kanter, Genevieve

Although the effect of parents on their children has been the focus of much research on health and families, the influence of children on their parents has not been well studied. In this paper, I examine the effect of the sex composition of children on mothers' physical condition, as proxied by their weight. Using two independent datasets, I find that, many years after the birth of their children, women who have first-born daughters weigh on average 2-6 pounds less than women who have first-born sons. This weight gap emerges around the time that the first-born child is in his or her pre-teen years and is largest during the child's teen years. I find indirect evidence that this gender weight gap is associated with bargaining power shifts and with mothers' appearance-centered behaviors in the presence of daughters, but find no support for the hypothesis that mothers with sons weigh more because sons eat more than daughters and induce mothers to eat more. I also show that it is unlikely that underlying biological factors like a Trivers-Willard effect are significantly biasing these estimates. Although this weight gap may appear small, weight gains of this magnitude may contribute to increased risk of breast cancer. This study is the first to show that children can have real impacts on the physical condition of their parents and points to a novel channel through which policy makers may be able to influence health.

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Paper provided by University Library of Munich, Germany in its series MPRA Paper with number 28997.

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Date of creation: Nov 2010
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Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:28997
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  1. Shelly Lundberg, 2005. "Sons, Daughters, and Parental Behaviour," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 21(3), pages 340-356, Autumn.
  2. Jay Teachman & Paul Schollaert, 1989. "Gender of children and birth timing," Demography, Springer, vol. 26(3), pages 411-423, August.
  3. Lundberg, S. & Pollak, R.A., 1991. "Separate Spheres Bargaining and the Marriage Market," Discussion Papers in Economics at the University of Washington 91-08, Department of Economics at the University of Washington.
  4. Case, Anne & Fertig, Angela & Paxson, Christina, 2005. "The lasting impact of childhood health and circumstance," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(2), pages 365-389, March.
  5. Black, Sandra E. & Devereux, Paul J. & Salvanes, Kjell G., 2005. "From the Cradle to the Labor Market? The Effect of Birth Weight on Adult Outcomes," IZA Discussion Papers 1864, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  6. A Oswald & N Powdthavee, 2008. "Daughters and Left Wing Voting," Discussion Papers 08/18, Department of Economics, University of York.
  7. Marianne Bertrand & Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, 2009. "Time Use and Food Consumption," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(2), pages 170-76, May.
  8. Lundberg, Shelly, 2005. "The Division of Labor by New Parents: Does Child Gender Matter?," IZA Discussion Papers 1787, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  9. John Cawley, 2004. "The Impact of Obesity on Wages," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 39(2).
  10. Gordon B. Dahl & Enrico Moretti, 2008. "The Demand for Sons," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 75(4), pages 1085-1120.
  11. Zhehui Luo & Ren Mu & Xiaobo Zhang, 2006. "Famine and Overweight in China ," Review of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 28(3), pages 296-304.
  12. Currie, Janet, 2000. "Child health in developed countries," Handbook of Health Economics, in: A. J. Culyer & J. P. Newhouse (ed.), Handbook of Health Economics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 19, pages 1053-1090 Elsevier.
  13. Ben-Porath, Yoram & Welch, Finis, 1976. "Do Sex Preferences Really Matter?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 90(2), pages 285-307, May.
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