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Having a son promotes clean cooking fuel use in urban India

Research, Environment, Social Hierarchy1 min read

Authors: Avinash Kishore, Dean Spears

Published in: Economic Development and Cultural Change

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Despite profoundly negative health consequences of indoor air pollution, most rural Indian households cook using traditional biomass fuel, rather than cleaner cooking fuel. Although many factors contribute to households’ continued use of solid fuels, this paper focuses on one: women’s intra-household status.

We use two nationally representative datasets, and implement two complementary empirical strategies. The first strategy demonstrates that observable indicators of women’s low status are associated with lower use of clean fuel, despite a broad range of controls. No similar association is found between status and electrification. The second strategy exploits Indian son preference: having a girl first child lowers women’s status relative to having a boy first child, and is therefore associated with a three-fourths of a percentage point reduction in the likelihood of using clean fuel.

This effect is found throughout the wealth distribution, and is not concentrated among households in states with a high child sex ratio or households where women have some education. Using several other assets as dependent variables – including electrification – no similar effect of having a girl first child was found. To our knowledge this is the first paper demonstrating a causal effect of women’s status on clean fuel use.


r.i.c.e. is a non-profit research organization focused on health and well-being in India. Our core focus is on children in rural north India. Our research studies health care at the start of life, sanitation, air pollution, maternal health, social inequality, and other dimensions of population-level social wellbeing.

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