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Child Malnutrition and Gender Preference in India: The Role of Culture

Vijayan K. Pillai, Jeyle Ortiz-Rodriguez

Background: Indicators of malnourishment among children include stunting and underweight. Son preference may result in increases in stunting among girls. Socioeconomic variables, such as mother’s education level and wealth status, may affect the likelihood of stunting and son preference. The purpose of this study is to explore the role of son preference, mother’s education, and wealth status on boys’ and girls’ stunting in India.

Method and material: Data from the Third National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) of India are used in this study. Path analysis using OLS is conducted to examine the impact of son preference, mother’s education, and wealth status on boys’ and girls’ stunting in India.

Results: Results indicate a significant difference in the mean levels of stunting among girls and boys. Mother’s education and wealth status reduce son preference as well as stunting among both boy and girl children. However, gender preference for boys bears a net negative effect on the stunting level of girls. Preference for girls has no significant effect on girls’ stunting scores.

Conclusion: The phenomenon of stunting in India is highly prevalent.. This study finds empirical support for the cultural explanation of malnutrition. The problem of stunting in India is much more than an issue of poverty. We conclude that malnutrition reduction policies should consider programs that address cultural factors that support son preference.