Why are Indian children so short? the role of birth order and son preference

Seema Jayachandran, Rohini Pande

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

176 Scopus citations


Child stunting in India exceeds that in poorer regions like sub-Saharan Africa. Data on over 168,000 children show that, relative to Africa, India's height disadvantage increases sharply with birth order. We posit that India's steep birth order gradient is due to favoritism toward eldest sons, which affects parents' fertility decisions and resource allocation across children. We show that, within India, the gradient is steeper for high-son-preference regions and religions. The gradient also varies with sibling gender as predicted. A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that India's steeper birth order gradient can explain over one-half of the India-Africa gap in average child height.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2600-2629
Number of pages30
JournalAmerican Economic Review
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2017
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Economics and Econometrics


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