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Essays in Human Development and Public Policy


Despite strong recent economic growth, gender inequality remains a major concern for India. This dissertation examines the effectiveness of public policy in improving some important human development outcomes, with a focus on gender issues. The national Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostics Techniques (PNDT) Act of 1994, implemented in 1996, banned sex-selective abortions in the Indian states which hitherto had not legislated such a policy. Using village-level and town-level longitudinal data from the 1991 and 2001 censuses, along with household survey data from other sources, the first essay finds a significantly positive impact of the PNDT Act on the female-to-male juvenile sex ratio (number of females per 1000 males below the age of 6 years). Although researchers frequently mention the futility of the Act, this study is among the first to use a treatment-effect type analysis of the pre-ban and post-ban periods to show that the law hindered any further worsening of the gender imbalance in India. I find that in the possible absence of the PNDT Act, juvenile sex ratio would have declined by another 13-20 points on average. A second study evaluates the `unintended consequences' of the PNDT Act on child quality. Using household survey data from two time periods, and exploiting a natural experiment framework originating from the timing of the PNDT Act, I find a mixed impact of the law on gender-relative child quality outcomes. Since the PNDT Act partially improved the sex ratio but did not uniformly worsen the nutritional and immunization status of girls, it could be regarded as a truly welfare enhancing public policy. Finally, a third study examines the effectiveness of the Indian school feeding program in improving the nutritional and learning outcomes of children. Using a household fixed-effect and a propensity score matching framework, the outcomes of children receiving school meals are compared with that of similar children who are not covered under the program. The results show that the school meal program generally does not have any significant effect on the child nutrition nor learning outcomes, neither does it have any impact on the relative outcomes of the girl children.

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