The connection between nutrition and social status

Did you know that younger daughters-in-law in rural India have shorter children on an average? And that there is a perfectly good explanation for it?

A very interesting article in the The Hindu points to new evidence that the unequal social status of women plays a significant role in the fact that they’re undernourished.

Apparently, India has “inexplicably” high levels of under-nutrition.

For its per capita income, India has stubbornly higher than expected levels of stunting and under-weight among children and adults — the so-called “Asian enigma”


there has been a growing acknowledgement, including by Dr. Sen himself, that food consumption alone does not explain the scale of India’s under-nutrition.

The explanation is this:

A growing body of evidence is also now showing that the low social status of women — something difficult to capture statistically — could be a big part of the explanation. A new working paper by economists Diane Coffey, a PhD candidate at the Office of Population Research at Princeton University; Reetika Khera of the Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi; and Mr. Spears has shown that the younger daughters-in-law in a rural joint family have shorter children on average.

While this is no longer the typical Indian family, it provides a rare econometric measure of “social status.” Sure enough, the younger daughters-in-law “report having less say in a range of household decisions; they spend less time outside the home on a normal day than [the older] daughters-in-law; and, they have lower body mass index [BMI] scores than their [older] counterparts,” the researchers find, using official National Family Health Survey data.

This is a serious concern.

Recent research by Angus Deaton, Professor of Economics at Princeton University and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International affairs and leading global expert on poverty and nutrition in the developing world, has shown that Indian women’s nutrition is undeniably not improving at the same pace as men’s. Mr. Deaton has found that Indian men’s heights are growing at nearly three times the rates of women and the gap is widening

Read the full article