Date of Award

Summer 6-28-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Francisca Antman

Second Advisor

Terra McKinnish

Third Advisor

Tania Barham


This dissertation studies the impact of policy changes on health and education of children in the developing world. In the first two chapters, I focus on the issue of sex selection. The final chapter studies the impact of a sanitation program on the health of children in India. Altogether, the dissertation highlights the role of good policy in targeting various health and education issues for children.

The first chapter studies whether increasing political representation of women in India challenges gender discrimination and thus reduces sex selection. Exploiting the implementation of an Indian law that required one-third of local political seats to be reserved for women, I investigate the impact of female leadership on sex selection in rural India. I find that higher birth order children are less likely to be male if political seats at the local level have been reserved for women. Additionally, I find that higher birth order female child mortality rates decline once states implement female reservations. After ruling out alternative hypotheses, I argue the underlying mechanism is a change in attitudes due to exposure to female leaders.

The second chapter studies whether abortion legalization, or reduced costs to sex select, improves education outcomes for girls that are not initially aborted in Taiwan. I find that girls born at higher birth orders after the legalization of abortion experience an improvement in their university attendance rates by approximately 4.5 percentage points. Moreover, a similar improvement in university attendance rates for higher birth order boys is not found. These findings extend existing literature by providing evidence of the substitution hypothesis, the idea that prenatal and postnatal discrimination are substitutes, for a later life economic outcome.

The final chapter presents evidence that increased sanitation improved the health of children in India. The results highlight the state of Maharashtra's early success in adopting sanitation- related policy, and I find that improved sanitation decreased diarrheal prevalence for children of Maharashtra. My findings also suggest that sanitation improvement decreased the prevalence of cough and fever for young children. Additionally, I find that the results are not unique to the Indian state of Maharashtra, and I show successful implementation of sanitation policy also led to an improvement in childhood health nationwide in India.

Overall, these findings suggest that banning sex selection at birth would lead to discrimination against female children later in life. Based on the results from my first two chapters, I argue that policies that help reduce underlying male preference by improving views towards women should be implemented instead of policies that prohibit sex selection at birth. Results from this dissertation also emphasize the need for good sanitation programs in the developing world to improve the health of children.

Included in

Economics Commons