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Dads, disease, and death: determinants of daughter discrimination


Existing evidence suggests that girls are differentially affected by income shocks and changes in bargaining power. Most studies, however, ignore household production and confound differential opportunity costs with changes in income or bargaining power. I disentangle these determinants of gender discrimination—preferences, income and time allocation—by comparing households with varying degrees of parental involvement. Results indicate that, controlling for household fixed effects, reducing the time available for household production has a disproportionately negative effect on daughters. But, for a transitory income shock, daughters’ education is less income-elastic. Increasing mothers’ bargaining power is most effective in narrowing the gender gap.

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Fig. 1


  1. It should be noted that these distinctions are specific to the analysis of children’s schooling, which cannot be easily hidden from others. Mothers may adjust some allocations to children when fathers are not present on a daily basis, but schooling decisions are more constrained as they can be easily monitored (see Chen 2009).

  2. The mother’s preferences may be mediated by members of the extended family, e.g. parents and/or in-laws, after the father’s death. Identification requires only that the mother’s bargaining power increases after her spouse dies.

  3. Limiting estimation to the SUSENAS, which covers all four groups, is not feasible given the rarity of widowhood and temporary migration among survey households.

  4. The market rates of return to children’s skill units are not directly observable, thus they will also be subsumed in the household fixed effect. Provided that the gender gap in rates of return is exogenous to household type, conditional on the household fixed effect, this is not problematic. The estimated coefficient for the baseline girl dummy variable will also capture differences in the returns to human capital across males and females.

  5. Time allocation data was only recorded in the IFLS for individuals aged 15 and older. Therefore, this sample is limited to children between the ages of 15 and 20.


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I would like to thank Mark Rosenzweig, Michael Kremer, Erica Field, Sendhil Mullainathan, Mark Pitt and two anonymous referees for many helpful comments and suggestions. This work also benefited from discussions with Beatriz Armendariz, David Cutler, Dave Evans, Ed Glaeser, Bryan Graham, Caroline Hoxby, Claudia Goldin, Larry Katz, Lant Pritchett, Elaina Rose, Duncan Thomas, participants of the poster session at the PAA 2003 Annual Meeting, the 2004 NEUDC conference, and the Harvard University Development and Labor/Public Finance workshops. Support from the Project on Justice, Welfare and Economics at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and the Center for International Development at the Kennedy School of Government is gratefully acknowledged. All remaining errors are my own.

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Correspondence to Joyce J. Chen.

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Responsible editor: Junsen Zhang



Table 10 Conditional logit regression of children’s school enrollment
Table 11 Fixed effects regression of children’s schooling attainment

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Chen, J.J. Dads, disease, and death: determinants of daughter discrimination. J Popul Econ 25, 119–149 (2012).

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  • Intra-household allocation
  • Gender
  • Household production

JEL Classification

  • D13
  • J16
  • O15