Does Son Preference Influence Children's Growth in Height? A Comparative Study of Chinese and Filipino Children
A substantial body of research has demonstrated that son preference has a serious impact on the survival and well-being of female infants and children in some parts of South and East Asia, but little is known about the consequences of son preference in later childhood and adolescence. We compare male and female children’s growth trajectories in height over childhood and adolescence in China, where the level of son preference is relatively high, and the Philippines, where the level of son preference is relatively low. Children’s height indexes well-being because it reflects long-term nutritional status and exposure to infectious diseases, both influenced by household decision-making and, presumably, by a preference for sons. Using longitudinal data from the China Health and Nutrition Survey and the Cebu Longitudinal Health and Nutrition Survey and multilevel growth models, we find that male children in China show an excess height advantage relative to their female counterparts, when compared to the male-female difference in growth trajectories in the Philippines. Further analysis reveals that the excess male advantage in China is evident only in rural areas. These findings are discussed in the context of the reproduction of gender inequality across the life course in high son preference settings.