Birth Order, Fertility, and Child Height in India and Africa

73 Pages Posted: 21 May 2019

See all articles by Dean Spears

Dean Spears

University of Texas at Austin; Economics and Planning Unit, ISI-Delhi; r.i.c.e.; IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Diane Coffey

Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (r.i.c.e.)

Jere Behrman

University of Pennsylvania


The poor state of child health in India has generated a number of puzzles that have received attention in the literature. A recent focus on birth order has produced contradictory results. Coffey and Spears (2019) document an early-life survival advantage in India accruing to later birth orders, which they interpret as the result of a pattern of improving maternal nutrition over mothers' childbearing careers. In apparent contrast, Jayachandran and Pande (2017) show, using the same set of demographic surveys, a disadvantage in child height for later birth orders in India relative to Africa's birth order gradient.They interpret this pattern as discrimination against later birth-order children in India. This paper resolves the apparent contradiction, showing how differing correlations between sibsize (a child's number of siblings) and household wellbeing can account for the empirical findings of both studies: A mother having higher fertility, rather than lower, implies more socioeconomic disadvantage within India than within Africa.Accounting for sibsize reverses the apparent Indian laterborn disadvantage in child height, reversing the interpretation of Jayachandran and Pande. In short, a child's sibsize (or, equivalently, its mother's fertility) is an omitted variable in Jayachandran and Pande's analysis of birth order effects. Resolving these puzzles is critical for human development policy to combat the enduring challenges of disproportionately high rates of stunting and neonatal death in India, where one-fifth of global births occur.

Keywords: child height, birth order, India, DHS, high-dimensional fixed effects

JEL Classification: O15, I15

Suggested Citation

Spears, Dean and Coffey, Diane and Behrman, Jere, Birth Order, Fertility, and Child Height in India and Africa. IZA Discussion Paper No. 12289, Available at SSRN: or

Dean Spears (Contact Author)

University of Texas at Austin ( email )

Austin, TX 78712
United States

Economics and Planning Unit, ISI-Delhi ( email )

7 S .J. S.
Sansanwal Marg
New Delhi, 110016


New Delhi


IZA Institute of Labor Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072

Diane Coffey

Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (r.i.c.e.) ( email )

New Delhi

Jere Behrman

University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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