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Can Legal Bans on Sex Detection Technology Reduce Gender Discrimination?

  • Economics Discussion Papers
  • May 4, 2021
  • Aparajita Dasgupta, Anisha Sharma,
  • Aparajita Dasgupta, Anisha Sharma

Bans on sex-selective abortions, typically implemented to make sex ratios more equitable, may have adverse welfare consequences in terms of increased gender discrimination against surviving ‘unwanted’ girls. Exploiting geographic and intertemporal variation in the implementation of a ban on sex-screening and sex-selection across different states in India, we examine the extent to which prenatal gender discrimination is substituted by postnatal discrimination after the enforcement of the ban. In particular, we study whether the ban on sex-selective abortions worsens relative health and mortality outcomes for girls as compared to boys. Using the observation that sex-selective abortions are more likely to occur among families with firstborn girls, we compare our treatment effects across families with firstborn girls and firstborn boys. Our findings indicate that the ban increased the gender gap in mortality, health outcomes and health investments through two main channels: an increase in the proportion of unwanted girls who face increased discrimination and an increase in fertility in intensively treated families with firstborn girls, leading to greater competition among siblings for resources. We contrast our results with the impact of a policy that, in addition to strengthening supply-side measures, also contains demand-side elements aimed at shifting social norms through a mass media gender sensitisation intervention. Our results suggest that demand-side interventions that directly target social norms reduce the adverse welfare consequences of pure supply-side restrictions.

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