- Insuring Girls’ Lives Against Drought (Job Market Paper) (with Joshua D. Merfeld).
This paper revisits the relationship between agricultural productivity shocks and excess female mortality in India and focuses on investigating how this relationship changes when households have access to employment opportunities outside of agriculture. When household’s preference for son coincides with adverse income shocks, in order to smooth consumption overtime, households tend to disproportionately reduce care (prenatal or postnatal) for their female children, which leads to excess female child mortality. Building on previous work (Rose, 1999), we show that agricultural productivity shocks in India, proxied by rainfall, continue to be an important predictor of the sex of an infant: the sex-ratio of infants is more balanced in good rainfall years and skewed towards boys during bad rainfall years. In addition, we show that the effect of rainfall during the year of birth on height-for-age is stronger for girls than for boys. We then show that a guaranteed rural workfare program in India, that provides labor opportunities outside of agriculture, attenuates the relationship between rainfall and both the sex-ratio of infants and height-for-age for girls. We also show that the negative relationship between agricultural productivity shocks (rainfall) and the number of dowry deaths (Sekhri and Storeygard, 2014) also dissipates after the introduction of the workfare program.
This paper estimates the effect of access to credit on the probability of marriage of women and men in rural India. In societies where dowry payments are customary, an increase in access to credit can potentially increase the probability of marriage of girls either through an increase in income or consumption smoothing. Using a formal bank branch expansion in rural India and an instrumental variables approach, I find the following: First, the probability of marriage increases for girls; Second, this effect is concentrated during the years that households do not experience positive agricultural income shocks; Third, consistent with this result of a tighter “marriage squeeze”, that is, there are more potential brides in the marriage market than potential grooms, an increase in per capita rural bank branches also leads to an increase in dowry payments, increase in women’s distance of marriage migration, and a decrease in quality of spouse. The marriage market results are further supported by the following findings: (a) An increase in per capita rural bank branches only increases school enrollment of young girls, and therefore, fails to delay the marriage of girls who are at the highest risk of marriage; (b) An increase in per capita rural bank branches decreases labor participation of women, and therefore, fails to increase the value of women’s labor in a household.