An excellent special issue of the New York Times magazine on Women and Development had an article on the “daughter deficit”—the
phenomenon, observed in India and China, of many fewer girls than boys
being born, and surviving to age 5. Up to now, I had been thinking of
this as an Asian phenomenon, associated with cultural values in India
and China. But the finding by my colleagues Jed Friedman and Norbert
that in Africa the mortality rate from a drop in income is about twice
as high for girls as for boys, makes me think that the daughter deficit
(or “son preference”) may be coming to Africa.
As Jed and Norbert show, the difference is unlikely to be for
biological reasons (such as that male fetuses that survive to birth may
be stronger than female ones), so the explanation is probably
behavioral. The Times article suggests that, in Asia, the son
preference increases as incomes grow (the boy-girl ratio is higher in
the richer states of India, for instance). Could it be that, as
per-capita incomes rise in Africa, we may start seeing a widening gap
between infant boys and girls?