Cultural Norms and Son Preference in Intrahousehold Food Distribution: A Case Study of Two Asian Rural Economies

47 Pages Posted: 11 May 2019

Date Written: June 2019


Based on the cost and content of individual calorie intake, I find evidence of son preference in food distribution in rural Bangladesh but not in the rural Philippines, which is consistent with the contrasting cultural norms of these two agrarian societies. Unlike in the Philippines, few females in Bangladesh, a male‐dominated patriarchal society with the strong presence of dowry and purdah systems, seem to participate in the labor market. Gender differences in wage rates appear to be prominent in Bangladesh as well, and the transfer at marriage from a bride's family seems to exceed that from a groom's family. In Bangladesh, the village wage rate of adult females is positively associated with a girl's allocation from the animal food group, while village wage rates of adult males are negatively associated. However, no such association is observed in the Philippines, which is characterized by egalitarian values between the sexes. In recent marriages in Bangladesh, a village's average value of transfers from grooms' families is also positively associated with a girl's allocation. While higher birth order children fare worse than lower birth order children in both economies, in Bangladesh a higher birth order girl does worse than a higher birth order boy, whereas this is not the case in the Philippines. The son preference does not seem to be associated with scarcity, as it is prominent in non‐poor Bangladeshi households but not in poor ones; the preference does not appear in either category in the Philippines. A Bangladeshi village's access to television, which I use as a proxy for liberal values, is positively associated with girls' calorie allocations.

Keywords: intrahousehold, nutrients, bargaining, gender, inequality

Suggested Citation

Rahman, Aminur, Cultural Norms and Son Preference in Intrahousehold Food Distribution: A Case Study of Two Asian Rural Economies (June 2019). Review of Income and Wealth, Vol. 65, Issue 2, pp. 415-461, 2019. Available at SSRN: or

Aminur Rahman (Contact Author)

World Bank ( email )

1818 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20433
United States

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