Religion and child death in India

Religion and child death in India

On average the burden of disease and death is born primarily by poorer people within poorer countries.The high rates of child mortality in developing countries today constitute one of the harshest failures of development. It is estimated that about 10 million children die each year before their first birthday and that a fourth of these deaths occur in India.

The initial motivation of project disussed in this paper was to present and analyse evidence that challenges the conventional wisdom on the overwhelming importance of socio-economic status, introducing a systematic role for culture (identified here as religion). In India, Muslims have poorer socioeconomic status (SES) on average but they have persistently achieved substantially higher child survival rates than Hindus. This remarkable fact has escaped attention and analysis. An aspect of religion that is closely examined in this project is gender preference. This research also extends the analysis of religion differentials in health to look at religion differentials in education as this helps sort explanations in terms of investments in children vs healthy behaviours.

The author finds some evidence that the Muslim advantage in child survival may derive partly from the fact that they are less likely than Hindus to favour sons over daughters. The research shows that the Muslim advantage is greater for girl survival although they do have an advantage for boy survival. It is argued that this is related to their better maternal health - which is supported by the fact that most of the differential is apparent soon after birth. The author also argues that better maternal health is also related to lower son preference.

Research challenges, implicitly, the popular perception that the status of women in Muslim communities is lower than that of men, showing that it is even lower in Hindu communities. This research also undermines the argument that Muslims have “lower human capital” than Hindus because they have been discriminated against. It shows that they have stronger health capital and suggests that they may have stronger social capital, alongside their clearly weaker educational capital.

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