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 coin-cides with adverse agricultural productivity shocks, previous research shows that households tend to dis-proportionately 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 low rainfall years. In a deviation from past work, we find evidence of this effect primarily through prenatal channels in modern India. More importantly, we show that a workfare program that decouples both wages and consumption from rainfall attenuates the relationship between rainfall and the infant sex ratio. Using a back-of-the-envelope calculation, we find that the program could have saved at least 0.7 million girls - relative to boys - if the government had implemented it from 2001 to 2005. Suggestive evidence also indicates that the program may have attenuated the positive effect of birth year productiv-ity shocks on girls' longer-term height-for-age. (c) 2021 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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