Sex discrimination begins in the womb

March 27, 2013
Sex discrimination begins in the womb
Economist Leah Lakdawala, Michigan State University, co-authored the first study looking at sex discrimination in prenatal care. Credit: Michigan State University

Women in India are more likely to get prenatal care when pregnant with boys, according to groundbreaking research that has implications for girls' health and survival.

The study by Leah Lakdawala of Michigan State University and Prashant Bharadwaj of the University of California, San Diego, suggests sex discrimination begins in the womb in male-dominated societies.

"It paints a pretty dire picture of what's happening," said Lakdawala, MSU assistant professor of economics.

In studying the national health-survey data of more than 30,000 Indians, the researchers found that women pregnant with boys were more likely to go to prenatal medical appointments, take , deliver the baby in a (as opposed to in the home) and receive tetanus shots.

Tetanus is the leading cause of in India. According to the study, children whose mothers had not received a tetanus vaccination were more likely to be born underweight or die shortly after birth.

The researchers – the first to study sex discrimination in – also looked at smaller data sets from other countries. In the patriarchal nations of China, Bangladesh and Pakistan, evidence of sex-discrimination in the womb existed. But in Sri Lanka, Thailand and Ghana – which are not considered male-dominated – no such evidence existed.

In India, while it's illegal for a doctor to reveal the sex of an unborn baby or for a woman to have an abortion based on the baby's sex, both practices are common, Lakdawala said.

But knowing the sex of the baby through an ultrasound also can lead to discrimination for those pregnancies that go full-term, she said.

"This type of discrimination we're seeing, while not as severe as sex-, is very important for children's health and well-being," Lakdawala said.

Given that previous research has linked early to later outcomes, in prenatal care might also have long-term effects.

"We know that children born at higher birth weights go to school for longer periods and have higher wages as adults, so the future implications here are pretty serious," Lakdawala said.

The study, titled "Discrimination begins in the womb: Evidence of sex-selective prenatal investments," appears in the current issue of the Journal of Human Resources.

Explore further: Significantly more boys born to Indian mothers in Canada than to Canadian-born mothers

Related Stories

Female feticide in Canada requires action

January 16, 2012

Canada should prohibit disclosure of the sex of a fetus until after 30 weeks of pregnancy to combat female feticide which is practised by some ethnic groups in Canada and the United States, states an editorial in CMAJ (Canadian ...

Where have all the young girls gone?

February 10, 2011

The widespread availability of ultrasound scans in India is giving rise to abortions of female foetuses on an unprecedented scale, according to new research by Professor Sonia Bhalotra from the University’s Center for ...

The effects of discrimination could last a lifetime

August 27, 2012

Given the well-documented relationship between low birth weight and the increased risk of health problems throughout one's lifespan, it is vital to reduce any potential contributors to low birth weight. A new study by Valerie ...

Recommended for you

Waiting periods reduce deaths from guns, study suggests

October 17, 2017

(Phys.org)—A trio of researchers with Harvard Business School has found evidence that they claim shows gun deaths decline when states enact waiting period laws. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy ...

Roman theater uncovered at base of Jerusalem's Western Wall

October 16, 2017

Israeli archaeologists on Monday announced the discovery of the first known Roman-era theater in Jerusalem's Old City, a unique structure around 1,800 years old that abuts the Western Wall and may have been built during Roman ...

Human speech, jazz and whale song

October 13, 2017

Jazz musicians riffing with each other, humans talking to each other and pods of killer whales all have interactive conversations that are remarkably similar to each other, new research reveals.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

BSD
1 / 5 (1) Mar 27, 2013
Nothing unusual here in a society where one half shows utter contempt for the other half of the population. Indian males don't seem to have the intelligence to understand that educating and looking after girls equally is a benefit to everyone, not a burden. They only have to look at Afghanistan and Pakistan and see what sort of mess those places are in. But it's all about power and oppression isn't it?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.