Maternal nutrition and early life health in India: Puzzles and evidence from Birth order
Dean Spears, Faculty Research Associate, Population Research Center, University of Texas at Austin
October 31, 2019, 3:30 pm to 5:00 pm, Gross Hall 270.
India is home to one-sixth of all people, one-fifth of all births, and one-fourth of all neonatal deaths. Why is death so likely at the beginning of life in India — even more so than in many poorer countries? This talk explores the evidence for one important reason: poor maternal nutrition. We will present new facts and puzzles about early-mortality and child health in India, and learn from patterns of changing maternal nutrition over the course of women’s childbearing careers. Especially in the Indian states where social inequality disadvantages young mothers, women in India are likely to be underweight in international comparison and to gain too little weight in pregnancy. In particular, later-born siblings in India have a steep survival advantage relative to the birth order gradient in other developing countries. We show that India's high prevalence of maternal undernutrition and its correlation with age and childbearing can explain this pattern. We find that Indian mothers exit the underweight body mass range at an internationally comparatively high rate as they progress through childbearing careers. Finally, this talk interprets these facts in the context of arguments in the econometric literature and of the evidence from population-level international comparisons.