Research Portfolio Post #5: Puzzle Proposal

    1. I am proposing to research female infanticide
    2.  because I want to find out what explains the resilience/persistence of son preference
    3. in order to help my reader, understand how women’s decisions to commit infanticide within changing fertility and economic landscapes can be continually reinforced

In reading Amartya Sen’s 100 Million Missing Women,[1] I was most interested in factors influencing women’s decisions as well as women’s choices within societal constraints but upon reading a critique of Sen’s framework, I began to see a gap in understanding on the role and influence of certain factors in women’s decisions to commit infanticide. In the critique, Amartya Sen’s 100 Million Women, Croll states that “the status of women and discrimination against girls has shown that improvements in women’s education and economic status may be associated with fertility decline but do not necessarily lead to reduced son preference”[2].

If we investigate son preference as a constant within the literature of infanticide, then what explains women’s continued decisions to commit infanticide or sex-selective abortions. How is son preference understood by the literature and by mothers and society itself? And how is son preference so persistent and seemingly resistant to certain demographic trends than others?

Demographic transitions and changing the landscape of fertility has placed increasing emphasis on women’s decisions within these changing contexts as policy-relevant to broader issues of sex ratio will be required to better understand the existence and continuation of son preference.

In a 2017 survey study by Economic Survey, on son preference, women’s agency was evaluated using 17 variables on women-specific issues such as how involved they were in decisions concerning their own health, contraception, education and most notably “prefer more or equal number of daughters over sons”[3].

The growth and increased availability and access to sex determination technologies have greater facilitated decreased fertility but have facilitated means of implementing son preference however technology should be considered as a tool in which son preferences are enacted rather than a solution and my puzzle would like at the consequences of such tools on facilitating preference an and how preference interact with innovation.

Son preference is outlined as a cultural custom of “cultural embeddedness” or cultural “determinants” (discussed in RPP4) but exists in the literature as a socially reinforced behavior. Professor Zhu of Xi’An Jiaotong University stated in the “Care of Girls” campaign that “Bias against girls is not something new; it has existed for a long time in [China’s] history” [4]. Zhu’s claim echoes many of the scholar’s assumptions of son prevalence as inherent and seemingly unchanging. Bongaarts claims son preference as “ a long-standing cultural preference” [5] and elaborates on the implementation of such cultural customs through infanticide and sex-selective abortion but this and literature that assume that preference itself continues to exist and will continue to exist on the basis of cultural but rather does not ask why preference is seen as the constant and if that is necessarily true in terms of policy solutions.

Within foundational research, the preference of sons is based on two questions: (1) does son preference exist and (2) why does son preference exist? These questions also frame an assumption in the literature on fertility data and sex ratio being indicative of son preference as seen in Gupta et al claim that decreased fertility ‘intensified’ sex bias [6]. Furthermore,

The economic and social analyses fail to explain women’s decisions to continue to act within the discovery of their own or society’s preference. They recognize the existence and claim to explain preference but do not assess women’s relative understanding of preference and subsequent response (infanticide, abortion etc) in spite of this knowledge. If policy intends to asses these preferences a greater emphasis on gender equality and social campaigns may help to counterbalance or at least recognize additional factors contributing to preference. Furthermore, fertility understood through policy framework does not intend to explain the continuation and prevalence of certain cultural embed or engrained practices that can greatly contradict well-intentioned rationale and rather create an opportunity to improve the framework and reassert the narrative of women and mothers


If we can greater understand the landscape that women are navigating in terms of their decisions to commit infanticide, we can greater understand women’s roles. Demographic trend and fertility transitions as they relate to women’s decision to commit infanticide are significant as it intends to question assumptions of women’s situations and thus disabled assumptions of women acting in constraint but rather acting upon greater resource and availability of fertility tools but rather what are the cultural mentalities surrounding these increasingly independent solutions.


  • What explains the persistence of son preference?
  • What explains regional son preference differences between India’s North and South



[1] Amartya Sen, “More Than 100 Million Women Are Missing,” December 20, 1990,

[2] Elisabeth J. Croll, “Amartya Sen’s 100 Million Missing Women,” Oxford Development Studies 29, no. 3 (October 2001): 225–44,

[3] Subramania Bharati, “Pudumai Pen”, Maithlisharan Gupt, “Gender and Son Meta-Preference: Is Development Itself an Antidote?”, Economic Survey 2017-18, no.1 (2017): 102-118,

[4] “Care for Girls Gaining Momentum” China Daily, July 8 2004,

[5] John Bongaarts, “The Implementation of Preferences for Male Offspring,” Population and Development Review 39, no. 2 (2013): 185–208.

[6] Monica Das Gupta and P. N. Mari Bhat, “Fertility Decline and Increased Manifestation of Sex Bias in India,” Population Studies 51, no. 3 (1997): 307–15.

2 thoughts to “Research Portfolio Post #5: Puzzle Proposal”

  1. Hey Lizzie! I like that you are choosing to focus on women’s decisions or agency when committing female infanticide. I just read a case study on how migrant women from Turkey’s conformity or resistance to familial/gender expectations are impacted not only by the space they are in but also by religion and age. Although female infanticide is not mentioned, it does provide insight and analysis on relationships between older and younger women where the latter often feel shamed and pressured by the former to act a certain way. Older women in the community had become complicit in perpetuating male-dominated norms[1]—something that also might be the case in the continuation of female infanticide. In terms of primary sources, I think it would be interesting to look at any medical records or doctor/patient conversation notes (if any have been made public) and compare them to personal stories about conversations within the family to see if women’s son/daughter preferences changed depending on whether they were in the public or private sphere and if they were speaking to a man or another woman. In other words, does a woman’s power to make that decision or even hold a different view than the norm change depending on space and company? Does this, as a result, affect whether she decides to keep the child or not? How much of a say does she actually have?

    Looking forward to seeing what you find!

    [1] Patricia Ehrkamp, “‘I’ve Had It with
    Them!’ Younger Migrant Women’s Spatial Practices of Conformity and Resistance,”
    Gender, Place & Culture 20, no. 1 (February 2013): 24, accessed
    September 30, 2019,

  2. Lizzie — you provide us with a good overview of the broad topic area and some discussions among scholars (and in primary sources) about the persistence of son preference. This is a good foundation for your research, though the post would have been stronger with some more reference to empirical evidence (primary sources) that clearly show the trend that you propose to analyze. Keep thinking about this (building your own equivalent of Edelstein’s list of cases of military occupations) as you continue your research even as you also continue to research the current scholarly debates over explanations for this phenomenon.

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