Published on Africa Can End Poverty

A Daughter Deficit in Africa?

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ImageAn excellent special issue of the New York Times magazine on Women and Development  had an article on the “daughter deficit”—the phenomenon, observed in India and China, of many fewer girls than boys being born, and surviving to age 5.  Up to now, I had been thinking of this as an Asian phenomenon, associated with cultural values in India and China.  But the finding by my colleagues Jed Friedman and Norbert Schady, reported in this blog , that in Africa the mortality rate from a drop in income is about twice as high for girls as for boys, makes me think that the daughter deficit (or “son preference”) may be coming to Africa. 

As Jed and Norbert show, the difference is unlikely to be for biological reasons (such as that male fetuses that survive to birth may be stronger than female ones), so the explanation is probably behavioral.  The Times article suggests that, in Asia, the son preference increases as incomes grow (the boy-girl ratio is higher in the richer states of India, for instance).  Could it be that, as per-capita incomes rise in Africa, we may start seeing a widening gap between infant boys and girls?


Shanta Devarajan

Teaching Professor of the Practice Chair, International Development Concentration, Georgetown University

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