Why Are Indian Children Shorter than African Children?

Research Seminars
Academic Areas Economics and Public Policy
Seema Jayachandran, Associate Professor, Northwestern University
June 28, 2013 | 3:00 PM - 4:30 PM | Friday
AC 2 Mini Lecture Theatre (MLT), Hyderabad, Hyderabad, India
For ISB Community


Child stunting is more common in India than in many developing countries such as sub-Saharan African countries with a similar GDP level. Two main explanations for the India-Africa height gap have been put forth: genetic and environmental. We use DHS data from 25 African countries and India to demonstrate the importance of environmental factors, in particular intra-household resource allocation. We show that the height disadvantage in India is driven by later-born children. In fact, height-for-age is higher in India than in Africa for first-born children. The Indian height disadvantage exists for second-born children, and becomes larger for third and higher order births, at which point mean height-for-age among Indian children is lower than that of African children by 0.44 standard deviations of the worldwide distribution. These patterns are robust to using only between-sibling variation. We also find a sharper drop-off with birth order in India than Africa for child health inputs, particularly prenatal inputs, consistent with parental behavior as the cause. We then show that the strong birth order gradient in India -- and, in turn, the overall problem of child malnutrition in India -- appears to be rooted in gender discrimination. This occurs via two channels, first, mistreatment of mothers, which worsens with progressive births, and, second, eldest son preference.