Baby girl survival rates in India fall when gold prices go up: study

A study conducted by Sonia Bhalotra, Professor of Economics at the University of Essex, shows that when world gold prices go up, fewer girl babies in India survive the first month of life.

In a piece published in The Conversation, Bhalotra writes that the relationship between gold prices and girls survival rates is explained by the fact that gold is often part of bridal dowries in India – "so when gold prices go up, the cost of raising girls rises and families tend to neglect or abort them."

To reach this conclusion, the researcher and her team merged monthly data on international gold prices between 1972 and 2005 with monthly birth cohort data, and analysed whether gold price changes influenced the sex ratio at birth and the survival of a newborn girl up to the age of one month.

"Using this large dataset with more than 100,000 births, we found that in months where the gold price went up, the chances of a girl surviving through the neonatal period were significantly lower than for boys. In fact, gold price inflation was correlated with an improved survival chance for boys," Bhalotra states.

In her study, the economist shows how between 1972 and 1985 there was a 6.3 per cent increase in the monthly price of gold and a 6.4 per cent corresponding increase in girl neonatal mortality was observed. During the same period, however, there was no significant corresponding change in male neonatal mortality.

Another set of data children born between 1986 and 2005, when ultrasound technology became widely available. "For potential births after 1986, we found that a 2.6% increase in the price of gold during pregnancy was accompanied by a statistically significant 0.3 percentage point decline in the probability that a girl rather than a boy would be born," Bhalotra writes.

The researcher explains that even though dowries are forbidden in India since 1961, the practice is still common. Since the cost of a dowry is about six times the average annual household income, families need to start saving as soon as a girl is born.

To read more about this study visit The Conversation.