Protecting Girls from Droughts with Social Safety Nets
This paper revisits the relationship between agricultural productivity shocks and the infant sex ratio in India and investigates how this relationship changes when households have access to government-provided employment opportunities outside of agriculture. When a household's preference for sons coincides with adverse agricultural productivity shocks, previous research has shown households tend to disproportionately reduce investments (prenatal and postnatal) in their female children. This behavior leads to a relatively more balanced sex ratio in good rainfall years and a more skewed sex ratio (in favor of boys) in bad rainfall years. We find evidence of both prenatal and postnatal channels in India and show that a workfare program, which decouples both wages and consumption from rainfall, attenuates the relationship between rainfall and the infant sex ratio. Using a back-of-the-envelope calculation and the assumption that females should never significantly outnumber males, the program could have saved around 550 girls per district per year -- relative to boys -- if the government had implemented it in the years 2001 to 2005. Additional results on postnatal channels show substantial impacts on long-run health outcomes of surviving girls, as rainfall no longer differentially affects girls' height-for-age, relative to boys', following the implementation of the program. In an important deviation from previous research, the entirety of the relationship between the sex ratio and rainfall is apparently driven by sex-selective abortions, not infant mortality.
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