Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sex choice and poverty

In many cultures, there is a strong preference for male offspring. While the human rights movement and the emancipation of women has in many cases curtailed preferential treatments, at least the most visible ones, new technologies like ultrasound have allowed this practice to flourish in some parts of the world. China and India, in particular, report unusually high male/female ratios. This surplus of males must have consequences on the marriage market, especially for the less desirable ones: the poor.

Lena Edlund and Chulhee Lee study this with the background of Korea. Sons are appreciated because they have sons, thus a married son is preferred to a married daughter, who is preferred to a single son. When the country was poor, however, single sons were still appreciated because they could provide old age support to their poor parents. As the country, and its poor, got richer and with the introduction of an old-age pension system, the value of the single son drops significantly and the sex ratio gets closer to normal.

What puzzles me in all this is why the poor did not favor daughters. They were relatively rare, thus could garner a substantial bride price. Thus there should have been a surplus of male children in rich families and of female children in poor ones. The paper does not provide any evidence of this in the data, but it seems to be a natural consequence of the model to me.


Kevin Denny said...

The Trivers-Willard hypothesis (Science 1973), an important idea in evolutionary biology, suggests that mothers in poor condition will have more daughters. The evidence for humans is quite mixed, as far as I can see, partly as its not clear how one defines "in good condition". So if you use say education & find no effect then the referee says you should have used income. Well thats my experience anyway!
Doug Almond has a nice paper on this recently.

Anonymous said...

As unfortunate as it seems, men still overwhelming control the world. Women have made great leaps in equality but there is still along way to go. In most of the socities discussed in the article they are still primitive by western standards and male decesdants can still provide the muscle to help in old age not to mention that the name will carry on after one is gone.

Psychology has much to do with this as anything economic. Actually, economics take a distant second place in this area. Males are the gender in those socities that will demand respect. If China and India continue their economic rise (they were the biggest world economies until the late 17th and early 18th centuries and now are regaining what they consider their rightful place in the world order) their prowess for change will propel women into areas that have been off-limits for generations. Economic growth will be the catalyst for change, but not until they have risen to the top of the world order.

Danny L. McDaniel
Lafayette, Indiana

Tom Rod said...

It's quite a natural to put this in economic terms. A daughter provides a one-time dowry (in cultures where the bride's family doesn't pay for the wedding), whereas a son provides continual support in old age. Hence, discount factors are at play. The evidence points out that the discount factors in old age must be relatively high for sons to be so starkly favored.