Birth Spacing in the Presence of Son Preference and Sex-Selective Abortions: India’s Experience over Four Decades

My latest paper, on how birth spacing changed in India with the introduction of sex selection, is now available. I am presenting a poster on this paper this coming Friday at the Population Association of America's annual meeting in Denver.

Title:

Birth Spacing in the Presence of Son Preference and Sex-Selective Abortions: India’s Experience over Four Decades

Abstract:

Strong son preference is typically associated with shorter birth spacing in the absence of sons, but access to sex selection has the potential to reverse this pattern because each abortion extends spacing by six to twelve months. I introduce a statistical method that simultaneously accounts for how sex selection increases the spacing between births and the likelihood of a son. Using four rounds of India’s National Family and Health Surveys, I show that, except for first births, the spacing between births increased substantially over the last four decades, with the most substantial increases among women most likely to use sex selection. Specifically, well-educated women with no boys now exhibit significantly longer spacing and more male-biased sex ratios than similar women with boys. Women with no education still follow the standard pattern of short spacing when they have girls and little evidence of sex selection, with medium-educated women showing mixed results. Finally, sex ratios are more likely to decline within spells at lower parities, where there is less pressure to ensure a son, and more likely to increase or remain consistently high for higher-order spells, where the pressure to provide a son is high.

Paper on child health in India forthcoming in Demography

My paper with Yu-hsuan Su, "Differences in Child Health across Rural, Urban, and Slum Areas: Evidence from India," has been accepted for publication in Demography. The final version is here and the abstract for the paper is below.

The developing world is rapidly urbanizing, but our understanding of how child health differs across urban and rural areas is lacking. We examine the association between area of residence and child health in India, focusing on composition and selection effects. Simple height-for-age averages show that rural Indian children have the poorest health and urban children the best, with slum children in between. Controlling for wealth or observed health environment, the urban height-for-age advantage disappears, and slum children fare significantly worse than their rural counterparts. Hence, differences in composition across areas mask a substantial negative association between living in slums and height-for-age. This association is more negative for girls than boys. Furthermore, a large number of girls are "missing" in slums. We argue that this implies that the negative association between living in slums and health is even stronger than our estimate. The "missing" girls also help explain why slum girls appear to have a substantially lower mortality than rural girls do, whereas slum boys have a higher mortality risk than rural boys do. We estimate that slum conditions–which the survey does not adequately capture, such as overcrowding and open sewers–are associated with 20-37% of slum children's stunting risk.

New version of paper on sex-selective abortions in India

A new version of my paper on sex-selective abortion, fertility, and birth spacing in India is now available. The major change from the prior version is new theoretical model that better ties the theoretical and empirical parts of the paper together plus many edits throughout the paper. The new version is available here and the new online appendix here.

Control of fertility using only traditional contraceptives?

Shamma Alam and I just finished a paper on the effects of income shocks on the timing of fertility in Tanzania using the Kagera data set. There are significant reductions in the likelihoods of being pregnant and giving birth following shocks, consistent with prior results in the literature. What is new is that we can show that this is predominately the results of an increased use of contraceptives. This is interesting for two reasons. First, it shows that the postponement of fertility following a shock is the result of an conscious decision, rather than being an unintended consequence of the shocks' effect on, for example, health or migration. Second, the postponement is achieved almost entirely through the use of traditional contraceptives. This shows that, once the incentives are strong enough, people are able to control their fertility even in the absence of modern contraceptives. The full abstract is:

This paper examines the relationship between household income shocks and fertility decisions. Using panel data from Tanzania, we estimate the impact of agricultural shocks on pregnancy, births, and contraception use. We estimate individual level fixed effect models to account for potential correlation between unobservable household characteristics and both shocks and decisions on fertility and contraceptive use. The likelihood of pregnancies and childbirth are significantly lower for households that experience a crop shock. Furthermore, women significantly increase their contraception use in response to crop losses. We find little evidence that the response to crop loss depends on education or wealth levels. The increase in contraceptive use comes almost entirely from traditional contraceptive methods, such as abstinence, withdrawal, and the rhythm method. We argue that these changes in behavior are the result of deliberate decisions of the households rather than the shocks' effects on other factors that influence fertility, such as women’s health status, the absence or migration of a spouse, the dissolution of partnerships, or the number of hours worked. We also show that, although traditional contraceptives have low overall efficacy, households with a strong incentive to postpone fertility are very effective at using them.

New version of my paper on sex-selective abortions in India

After working through many and excellent comments from 3 referees, I now have a revised version of my paper on sex-selective abortions in India. There is also now a substantial on-line appendix (89 pages). The new abstract is:

This paper addresses two main questions: what is the relationship between fertility and sex selection and how does birth spacing interact with the use of sex-selective abortions? I introduce a statistical method that incorporates how sex-selective abortions affect both the likelihood of a son and spacing between births. Using India's National Family and Health Surveys, I show that falling fertility intensifies use of sex selection, leading to use at lower parities, and longer spacing after a daughter is born. Women with 8 or more years of education, both in urban and rural areas, are the main users of sex-selective abortions and have the lowest fertility. Women with less education have substantially higher fertility and do not appear to use sex selection. Predicted lifetime fertility for high-education women declined more than 10% between 1985–1994, when sex selection was legal, and 1995–2006, when sex selection was illegal. Fertility is now around replacement level. Abortions per woman increased almost 20% for urban women and 50% for rural women between the two periods, suggesting that making sex selection illegal has not reversed its use. Finally, sex selection appears to be used to ensure one son rather than multiple sons.

New version of paper on family planning in Ethiopia available.

A new version of my paper with Kathleen Beegle and Luc Christiaensen on the effectiveness of family planning programs in Ethiopia is now available. You can find it here. The abstract is below.

Although reproductive health advocates consider family planning programs the intervention of choice to reduce fertility, there remains a great deal of scepticism among economists as to their effectiveness, despite little rigorous evidence to support either position. This study explores the effects of family planning in Ethiopia using a novel set of instruments to control for potential non-random program placement. The instruments are based on ordinal rankings of area characteristics, motivated by competition between areas for resources. Access to family planning is found to reduce completed fertility by more than 1 child among women without education. No effect is found among women with some formal schooling, suggesting that family planning and formal education act as substitutes, at least in this low income, low growth setting. This provides support to the notion that increasing access to family planning can provide an important, complementary entry point to kick-start the process of fertility reduction.

Talks on income shocks and timing of fertility

I presented preliminary results from Shamma Alam and my work on "Income Shocks, Contraceptive Use, and Timing of Fertility" at University of Oregon in Eugene on 16 November and I will be presenting at the UW labor and development brown bag tomorrow at 12.30. The abstract for the paper is below.

This paper examines the relationship between household income shocks and fertility decisions. Using panel data from Tanzania, we estimate the impact of agricultural shocks on contraception use, pregnancy, and the likelihood of childbirth. To account for unobservable household characteristics that potentially affect both shocks and fertility decisions we employ a fixed effects model. Households significantly increase their contraception use in response to income shocks from crop loss. This comes from an increased use of both traditional contraceptive methods and modern contraceptives. The poorer the household the stronger the effect of income shock on contraceptive use is. Furthermore, pregnancies and childbirth are significantly delayed for households experiencing a crop shock. For both pregnancy and childbirth the likelihood of delay as a result of shocks increases the poorer the household. We argue that these changes in behavior are the result of deliberate decisions of the households rather than income shocks' effects on other factors that influence fertility, such as women's health status, the absence or migration of spouse, and dissolution of partnerships.

Presented Gone with the Wind? paper at the CSAE Conference 2012: Economic Development in Africa

I was in Oxford in March for the 2012 CSAE Conference: Economic Development in Africa. I presented my paper on the impact of hurricane risk on fertility and education decisions. The conference was great and the quality of the papers continues to increase. You can find the latest version of the paper under "Research" on this website. A full program can be found here.

New version of "Family Planning and Fertility: Estimating Program Effects using Cross-sectional Data"

We (Kathleen Beegle, Luc Christiaensen and I) have just finished revising our paper on the effects of family planning on fertility in Ethiopia. You can find the new version, which has been submitted to a journal, here. The abstract is:

Although reproductive health advocates consider family planning programs the intervention of choice to reduce fertility, there remains a great deal of scepticism among economists as to their effectiveness, despite little rigorous evidence to support either position. This study explores the effects of family planning in Ethiopia using a novel set of instruments to control for potential non-random program placement. The instruments are based on ordinal rankings of area characteristics, motivated by competition between areas for resources. Access to family planning is found to reduce completed fertility by more than 1 child among women without education. No effect is found among women with some formal schooling, suggesting that family planning and formal education act as substitutes, at least in this low income, low growth setting. This provides support to the notion that increasing access to family planning can provide an important, complementary entry point to kick-start the process of fertility reduction.

A bit of "old" news on population growth

I really meant to put this up about a month ago, but here we go. The UN recently released the World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision. This predicts that the world's population will be 9.3 billion by 2050 and will eventually reach 10.1 billion by 2100 using their medium variant. The larger increase compared to the revision two years ago is predominantly from slower than expected fertility declines and lower HIV/AIDS mortality. The NY Times has a nice piece about the new projections and you can find the full report here (once it is all available). The press release provides a bit more detail without being overly long. There are two things especially interesting. First, the new projections are the first based on new Bayesian methods developed here at the UW by Adrian Raftery and others. The UW Today has a little article about the work here. Second, it is very timely for my work with Kathleen Beegle and Luc Christiaensen (both from the World Bank) on the effects of family planning programs in Ethiopia. We show that family planning programs are substantially more effective than what have been found in previous studies. There are two likely reasons for this. First, we focus on the effect by education level and show that the whole effect is concentrated among women with no education. Second, instead of looking at countries that are undergoing rapid economic growth and demographic changes, such as Indonesian or Columbia, we study a poor country where there is little economic growth. We find that the total number of children a woman has declines by 1.2 with access to family planning. The paper is available here.

CSAE and PAA conferences

Busy March: In addition to the PacDev mentioned below, I presented my work on family planning in Ethiopia at the 25th anniversary conference of the Centre for Studies of African Economies in Oxford and at the Population Association of America's annual meeting in Washington, DC. Mark Anderson and I also had a poster on our paper on the effects of dropping out of high school on sexually transmitted diseases.

Live plenary sessions from the Centre for Studies of African Economies conference

I am heading to Oxford to participate in the CSAE conference. The plenary sessions will be aired live at http://www.csae.ox.ac.uk/conferences/2011-EdiA/video.html The program is: Sunday 20 March 2011 14: 30- 16:00 GMT Panel Debate: Research, African Economic Policy and the Role of Private Business

Monday 21 March 2011 8:30 -9:30 GMT Assessing the Millennium Villages Program

Monday 21 March 2011 9:30-10:30 GMT Keynote speech on 'Education as Liberation?' by leading US academic Michael Kremer

Tuesday 22 March 2011 16:30-18:30 GMT Panel Debate: Randomized Controlled Trials or Structural Models (or both... or neither...)?:

I will be presenting my work on family planning in Ethiopia (joint with Kathleen Beegle and Luc Christiaensen, both from the World Bank). Unfortunately, that will not be aired live ;-).

Pacific Conference for Development Economics (PacDev)

I presented my paper on family planning in Ethiopia (joint with Kathleen Beegle and Luc Christiaesen, both from the World Bank) at the 8th annual Pacific Conference for Development Economics held at UC Berkeley. I also chaired a session on "Local Economic Shocks and Risk Sharing." As usual the conference was well attended and Ted Miguel did a great job at putting together a very nice conference.