Twin Estimates of the Effects of Prenatal Environment, Child Biology, and Parental Bias on Sex Differences in Early Age Mortality

from Health Economics at on November 9, 2020 at 11:14PM

Sex differences in early age mortality have been explained in prior literature by differences in biological make-up and gender discrimination in the allocation of household resources. Studies estimating the effects of these factors have generally assumed that offspring sex ratio is random, which is implausible in view of recent evidence that the sex of a child is partly determined by prenatal environmental factors. These factors may also affect child health and survival in utero or after birth, which implies that conventional approaches to explaining sex differences in mortality are likely to yield biased estimates. We propose a methodology for decomposing these differences into the effects of prenatal environment, child biology, and parental preferences. Using a large sample of twins, we compare mortality rates in male-female twin pairs in India, a region known for discriminating against daughters, and sub-Saharan Africa, a region where sons and daughters are thought to be valued by their parents about equally. We find that: (1) prenatal environment positively affects the mortality of male children; (2) biological make-up of the latter contributes to their excess mortality, but its effect has been previously overestimated; and (3) parental discrimination against female children in India negatively affects their survival; but failure to control for the effects of prenatal and biological factors leads conventional approaches to underestimating its effect by 237 percent during infancy, and 44 percent during childhood.