Household Responses to Policy and Social Norms in India

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In this dissertation, I study two of India's key social challenges: combating hunger and reducing gender inequality in education. Chapter one describes the background and context for both challenges and provides an overview of the methodology and results from the empirical analysis.

In chapter two, I use household survey data to examine the effect of food subsidies on the nutritional outcomes of poor households in India. The national food security program, known as the Public Distribution System, provides a monthly quota of cereals at substantially discounted prices. I study the effect of the program by exploiting geographic and household size specific variations in the value of the subsidy resulting from differences in state program rules and local market prices. I find elasticities for cereal consumption and caloric intake with respect to the subsidy that are small, but higher than estimates from prior literature on food subsidies. The elasticities for calories from all food groups are positive and significant. Thus households benefit from the program in terms of overall food intake and not just through cereals. I find a smaller effect in states that have higher levels of corruption. Finally, I use the estimates to simulate the caloric impact of the new National Food Security Bill.

Gender discrimination within the household exists in many contexts. In societies where future support is not expected from daughters, parents may be encouraged to invest even less in the human capital of girls. In India, the eldest son occupies a special position as the family heir and assumes responsibility for parents' welfare in their old age. In chapter three, I explore whether part of the observed pro-male bias in educational expenditures and school enrollment can be explained by parents choosing to invest in the (male) child that is the most likely to provide for them in the future. I confirm the presence of a pro-male bias and an additional preference for the likely inheritor in educational expenditures and enrollment. In families with more children and greater competition for resources, the inheritor bias is greater. I also find evidence suggesting discrimination against sons in the state of Meghalaya which follows a matrilineal system where the youngest daughter is the family heir.