Picking boys over girls

I start almost every class I teach with a sort of overview of economics and what kind of research I do. My favorite thing to do is throw out facts that seem controversial and get my students a bit riled up. In that vein, my favorite fact to throw out is that if you give money to women, they spend it differently than if you give money to men. I, of course, phrase it slightly more contentiously, claiming that men buy booze and cigarettes and women buy books. In the simplest terms, women are likely to spend an extra dollar on their children, while men are likely to spend an extra dollar on themselves, particularly in the developing world. This is a generalization, of course, and reflects averages, and doesn’t necessarily preclude that men will spend any money on their children. They of course are spending money on their children.

A new strand of literature, in fact, is attempting to tease out exactly how men and women spend money on their children, and in particular, whether there are differences by gender of the child. One of my advisors is very active in this literature and has a recent paper* in the AER on expenditures on children in Mexican immigrant families. She shows that the absence of a male head of household, through migration to the US, shifts resources towards female children. As men send remittances home, women make the decisions about how to spend the money, and thus spend more on girls. When the male heads return, and thus the man resumes decision-making power on expenditures, resources shift back towards the boys. As much as my students might think I’m crazy or sexist, who is making decisions in a household is of extreme importance in determining expenditure allocations.

*Antman, Francisca M. 2011. “Migration and Gender Discrimination Among Children Left Behind.” American Economic Review 100:3, 645-649.

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