"Why Do Mothers Breastfeed Girls Less Than Boys? Evidence and Implications for Child Health in India"
Quarterly Journal of Economics,
Volume: 126 | Issue: 3 | Pages: 1485-1538
Publication type: Journal article
Breastfeeding is negatively associated with future fertility both because nursing temporarily reduces fecundity and because mothers generally stop nursing upon a subsequent pregnancy. If parents have a fertility preference for sons, as is common in developing countries such as India, they will wean daughters more quickly to "try again" for a boy, potentially increasing girls' exposure to contaminated food and water as an unintended consequence. We develop a model of breastfeeding that predicts that breastfeeding duration increases with birth order, and rises significantly once a mother reaches her ideal family size; sons are nursed longer, as are children with older brothers; and these gender differences peak at birth order near ideal family size, when the decision to have another child is most marginal. We confirm each of these predictions using data from India. Moreover, gender differences in child survival exhibit similar patterns, especially in households without piped water where the health benefits of breastfeeding should be greatest.
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