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Abstract

Shows how economic theories based on parental self-interest may explain parental discrimination against daughters relative to sons. However, such theories often need to be adjusted (or even discarded) to allow for altruism of parents towards their children, and to take account of cultural influences on parental desires to have children of particular gender, and care equally for their children of different gender. The latter point is illustrated by a study of two different communities. In one situated in the Santal tribal belt I West Bengal, discrimination against daughters is found to be marked and accords (given the structure of society) with predictions of economic theories based on the pursuit of parental self-interest. By contrast, it is found that although the Knondh-dominated community in Orissa experiences similar economic conditions and social structures to the West Bengal communities, parental discrimination against daughters is almost absent. The differences seem to arise from a difference between the cultural values shared by the Kondhs in Orissa and those shared by the West Bengal community consisting of Santals and Bengali Hindus. This suggests that the applicability of economic theories of the family depends significantly on the social contexts in which they are to be applied. In this respect, both social structures and cultural values are important.

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