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Correlating childhood deaths with religion in India

Jan 24, 2011

The fact that Muslim children face lower mortality risk than Hindu children is baffling given the fact that Muslims in India have, on average, lower socio-economic status, higher fertility and shorter birth intervals, and they are thought to accord a lower status to women within the household.

Religion and childhood deaths in India

The analysis in this paper is motivated by the observation that Muslim children in India face lower mortality risk than Hindu children. This is puzzling because knowledge of religion-differences in the predictors of mortality risk suggests that the opposite should be the case. In particular, Muslims have, on average, lower socio-economic status, higher fertility and shorter birth intervals, and they are thought to accord a lower status to women within the household. 

 Moreover, as they are a minority group in India, we may expect that the areas in which they are concentrated receive relatively poor public services. Although higher fertility amongst Muslims as compared with Hindus has excited considerable political and academic attention in India, higher mortality amongst Hindus has gone largely unnoticed and there appears to be no previous research that has set out to explain it. Indeed, the only multivariate analysis that we are aware of appears in our earlier work (Bhalotra and van Soest 2007).

Using data from the state of Uttar Pradesh, where about 17% of the population is Muslim, we find that Muslim-status is associated with a 1.6%-point reduction in neonatal mortality. This is a remarkably large fixed religion effect, obtained after controlling for a rich set of covariates (birth-spacing, the survival status of the previous sibling, maternal age at birth, education of the mother and father, caste, the gender and birth-order of the child, and the child’s cohort) and mother and village level unobserved heterogeneity.

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