Land reforms fueled up desire for boy child in India

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NEW DELHI : Using two different datasets with different measures of the rate of tenant registration, we find compelling evidence that it was associated with increased survival of boys relative to girls. The most plausible explanation of this is that gaining land rights that could be passed on to sons led families to attach greater value to having sons. In households that had a son at first birth, we observe larger survival gains for girls, in line with the wealth effects of land reform (which has been shown to raise productivity) favoring girls.

For deducing these results a study of a program called “Operation Barga” was done. It was a tenancy reform carried out by the Left Government in the state of West Bengal. Earlier a study (Banerjee et al. 2002; Bardhan and Mookherjee, 2011) had shown that this program has increased productivity and farm incomes significantly. Bhalotra et al observed that higher program implementation rates were associated with raised survival chances of boys.

During this research, gender-biased inheritance motive came to the fore in explaining “Missing Women” phenomenon on India. This study highlighted unintended consequences of land reform policies in societies exhibiting gender imbalance in property inheritance patterns owing to a combination of traditional norms and inheritance laws.

Data & Method
This study utilized data from “land registration reform” and year and the birth of a child from the National Health and Family Survey. NFHS also provided information on the sex of the child and survival to age one. This data was then utilized to examine effects of the land reform on sex ratios at birth, infant mortality rate, and fertility.

A second dataset was also utilized i.e. farmer-village-household panel survey (VHPS) used by Bardhan and Mookherjee (2011) and Bardhan et al (2014). This provided data on cultivable land at village rather than district level. So, we got a finer measure of registration and details of household landholdings but only a measure of surviving births by gender and year of birth, which is net outcome of the sex ratio at birth, and differences in survival.

3 principal effects which can be deduced from our study were:

1. There was 6.4 percentage point reduction in the infant mortality risk of boys especially in Hindu families where the firstborn was a daughter, with no change in families with a first son. However, in the families where there was the first son, there was only a 6% point reduction. Thus, showing wealth effects also favors girls. But this also accentuated the fact that land reforms increased Hindu family’s priorities for a male heir. The corresponding rates for non-Hindu families were smaller and not statistically significant, suggesting they practice
less gender-unequal inheritance practices.

2. No effects of land reforms on gender differences in the survival chances of first-born children, implying gender of the first-born child were effectively random.

3. These reforms increased male bias in Hindu families for second and higher order births, irrespective of the gender of the first-born. Though there have not been any sonography machines at that time to carry out sex detection it is believed there has been underreporting of births that survived for a short period of time. Thus, the impact of tenancy reform on the sex ratio at birth implies an increase of 4-5% in the share of male bias. Additionally, it was found an increase in son-biased fertility stopping after the birth of a second child which was intensified if the first son was male. The difference in our specification between families with first-born sons versus daughter effectively controlled for a host of household and community-specific variables. Analysis of 2 nd dataset, it was found that median registration rate was associated with a 4.9% point greater probability of boys surviving in families in which the oldest surviving child was a girl. Moreover, documented effects were concentrated among landless households and among small landowners (owning between 1.25 and 2.5 acres of cultivable land). These were the largest beneficiaries of the program.

Figure 1: Infant Mortality of Hindu children with First-born sisters



Figure 2: Infant Mortality of Hindu children with First-born boys
Analysis of Chinese land reforms by Almond et al also provided similar results.

1. Banerjee, A V, P J Gertler and M Ghatak (2002), “Empowerment and Efficiency: Tenancy Reform in West Bengal”, Journal of Political Economy, 110(2): 239–280.…/DevelopmentMicroeconomics/…/BanerjeeGertler&Ghatak-JP…

2. Bardhan, P and D Mookherjee (2011), “Subsidized Farm Input Programs and Agricultural Performance: A Farm Level Analysis of West Bengal’s Green Revolution, 1982–1995”, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 3(4): 186–214.

3. Almond, D, H Li and S Zhang (Forthcoming), “Land Reform and Sex Selection in China”, Journal of Political

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