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Son Preference: Drivers, Evidence Gaps, and Policies

September 1, 2021




Watch the event replay by clicking on the link above

  • Persistent inequalities pose a significant threat to the achievement of development goals and eradication of poverty in the South Asia region. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing disparities and has opened new divides. The Chief Economist Office of the South Asia region, in cooperation with global practices and the Development Research Group, is conducting a research program, Social Divides and Norms: Disparities across Gender, Opportunity, and Location in South Asia, to deepen our understanding of long running inequalities.

    A key feature of inequality and poverty in the region are gender inequalities across a variety of dimensions of wellbeing. A particularly worrying aspect of gender inequality in South Asia is parental preference for sons that manifests as discrimination against girls both in the womb and after birth. But South Asia is not alone in this.  East Asian economies like China and Vietnam also display this son bias. This event, Son Preference: Drivers, Evidence Gaps, and Policies, is part of the Social Divides research program and focuses on this specific aspect of gender inequality: son preference. 

    Four experts offer their views on what we know about son preference. The discussion focuses on:

    • Measurement of son preference: how do we isolate son preference from other factors that can drive gender gaps in outcomes?
    • Drivers of son preference: is it an economic phenomenon linked to the fact that daughters provide lower economic returns than sons, and thus make the cost of investing in girls higher than that of investing in boys? Or is it due to norms, cultural practices, and rituals which support patriarchy? Or both?
    • What are the policy impacts (effectiveness, other negative or positive effects) of son preference?
    • What are some examples or ideas of policies, besides those already tested, to change son preference?
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    Monica Das Gupta

    Research Professor, Dept of Sociology, University of Maryland

    Monica Das Gupta is an anthropologist and demographer, who studies how family systems shape maternal and child health outcomes, and the causes and consequences of son preference in Asia. Another area of research is the organization of public health systems to reduce a population’s exposure to disease, in particular the institutional arrangements of successful models of low-cost preventive public health systems in India and Sri Lanka. Previously, she worked at the Development Research Group of the World Bank (1998-2012); the Center for Population and Development Studies at Harvard University (1992-98); and the National Council of Applied Economic Research in New Delhi (1982-92).


    Sonia Bhalotra

    Professor of Economics, University of Warwick

    Sonia Bhalotra is Professor of Economics at the University of Warwick. She obtained an MPhil and DPhil from Oxford and a BSc Hons from Delhi. Her research has made contributions in the areas of health, gender and political economy. She is Principal Investigator on an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council 2021-2026, Co-Investigator ESRC Research Centre on Micro-Social Change 2019-2024, Co-Investigator ESRC Project on Human Rights, Big Data and Technology at the Human Rights Centre Essex 2015-2021 and Investigator on a NIH funded project 2020-2025. Her research is set, inter alia, in India, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, America, the UK and Sweden.


    Seema Jayachandran

    Professor of Economics, Northwestern University

    Seema Jayachandran is a Professor of Economics at Northwestern University. Her research focuses on economic issues in developing countries, including environmental conservation, gender equality, labor markets, health, and education. She is a recipient of a National Science Foundation Early Career Development Award, Sloan Research Fellowship, and the Ecological Society of America's Sustainability Science Award. She serves on the board of directors for the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) and is the chair of J-PAL's gender sector. She is also co-director of the National Bureau of Economic Research's program in Development Economics and co-editor of the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics. In addition, she writes regularly for the New York Times and serves on CARE's board of directors.


    Hongbin Li

    James Liang Director of the China Program Stanford King Center on Global Development

    Hongbin Li is the James Liang Director of the China Program at the Stanford King Center on Global Development, and a Senior Fellow of Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR). Hongbin obtained Ph.D. in economics from Stanford University in 2001 and joined the economics department of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), where he became full professor in 2007. He was also one of the two founding directors of the Institute of Economics and Finance at the CUHK. Hongbin’s research has been focused on the transition and development of the Chinese economy. He is currently the co-editor of the Journal of Comparative Economics.


    Hans Timmer

    Chief Economist of the South Asia Region, The World Bank

    Hans Timmer is the World Bank's Chief Economist for South Asia. He assumed this position on January 1, 2019. Before that, he was the Chief Economist for the Europe and Central Asia region of the World Bank. Timmer is a quantitative international macroeconomist and econometrician with 30 years of management experience in leading teams of modelers, forecasters, and policy analysts. His experience ranges from long-term structural analyses of the economic impact of environmental policies, trade policies, and tax reforms, to short-term monitoring of the business cycle and analysis of monetary and fiscal policies. Before joining the World Bank in 2000, Timmer was head of international economic analysis at the Central Planning Bureau in the Netherlands.


  • Topic: Son Preference: Drivers, Evidence Gaps, and Policies
  • Date: Wednesday, Sep 1, 2021
  • Time: 10:00am - 12:00pm ET
  • CONTACT: Office of the Chief Economist in South Asia