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Dr. Leah Lakdawala, Michigan State University – Prenatal Sexism

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Leah Lakdawala of Michigan State University reveals how technology is allowing sex discrimination to begin before birth.

Leah Lakdawala is an assistant professor of economics at Michigan State University where here teaching and research interests include labor and development economics. Her current research is focused on family structure, child welfare, and entrepreneurship in developing countries. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of California San Diego.

Dr. Leah Lakdawala – Prenatal Sexism

My co-author and I were looking at gender differences in early childhood health investments in India when a thought struck us: what if the spread of ultrasound technology allowed families to start discriminating even before birth?  After examining data from over 30,000 Indian women, we find evidence that women who are pregnant with boys are more likely to visit antenatal clinics, more likely to receive tetanus shots and also more likely to deliver their babies in a non-home environment such as a health facility or hospital.

In a world where parents treat boys and girls equally, there is little reason to expect such a systematic relationship between fetal gender and prenatal care. In northern India, where sex discrimination is known to be more prevalent, we find that the gender gap in prenatal care is even larger. We see similar evidence of preferential treatment for boys in other patriarchal countries, such as China, Pakistan and Bangladesh.  We believe these results are very important because maternal inputs during pregnancy can affect health outcomes such as neonatal survival and birth weight.  For example, if women are more likely to receive tetanus shots when pregnant with a boy, this difference in prenatal care may lead to fewer girls surviving past the first month after birth. 

Not only does prenatal care have immediate effects on infant health, but previous research has linked early childhood health to later life outcomes such as educational attainment, IQ and adult wages.  This implies that gender discrimination in prenatal care may contribute to long term differences in outcomes between men and women.

Production support for the Academic Minute comes from Newman’s Own, giving all profits to charity and pursuing the common good for over 30 years, and from Mount Holyoke College.

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