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Palgrave Macmillan

Gender Equality and Inequality in Rural India

Blessed with a Son

ISBN 9781137373922
Publication Date December 2013
Formats Ebook (PDF) Hardcover Ebook (EPUB) 
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan

As India strives to improve overall social and economic conditions and gender relations through policies such as the abolishment of dowry, increasing the legal age at marriage, and promoting educational opportunities for girls, serious challenges remain, especially in rural areas. Gender Equality and Inequality in Rural India focuses on the extent to which economic development has resulted in positive changes in women's empowerment and reproductive health, as well as in sex preference.

Based on a study from a village in Maharashtra where impressive gains in economic development have occurred in recent decades, Carol Vlassoff examines the impact of son preference on fertility and rural women's economic empowerment and other aspects of reproductive behavior. She provides evidence of the added value of their employment beyond the traditional wage labor and domestic spheres, and argues that policies aimed at closing gender gaps in social inequalities must be complemented by policies fostering employment opportunities for women. While many studies have demonstrated the importance of social empowerment for improved reproductive health, this is the first to separate out the differential effects of social and economic factors. This work goes even further than economic arguments by demonstrating, on the basis of a robust statistical analysis, that women's education and their professional labor force participation contribute to better health and wellbeing of rural society, including through reductions in fertility, son preference, and infant and child mortality.

Carol Vlassoff is an Adjunct Faculty Member at the University of Ottawa, Canada. For nearly 30 years she worked for international development organizations such as the World Health Organization, the Canadian International Development Agency, and the International Development Research Centre, Canada. Her research interests include HIV/AIDS, international health, and gender and health.

1. The Importance of Sons in Indian Culture
2. Methodology of the Village Study
3. The Village Context – Changes Over Three Decades
4. Empowerment, Gender Attitudes and Reproductive Decisions among Married Women, Then and Now
5. The Influence of Son Preference on Fertility Intentions and Subsequent Behaviour
6. Sons, Land Division, Inheritance and Household Labour Allocation Strategies
7. Adolescent gender roles: Are they evolving?
8. The Situation of Widows: Do Sons and Brothers Help?
9. Toward Gender Equality in Rural India: Prospects for Change


"This book is an insightful study of women's empowerment and reproductive health in rural India in the context of economic change - moving beyond simplistic conventional wisdom that education alone will empower women. Vlassoff uses an innovative longitudinal design, with rigorous demographic and epidemiological analyses, to study the driving forces of son preference and how son preference ultimately shapes women's empowerment and reproductive health, illustrating 'how to do field work' for future generations of development scholars." - K.S. Mohindra, Globalization and Health Equity Research Unit, Institute of Population Health, University of Ottawa, Canada"While much related research attention has been on the stronger and stubborn son preference trends in urban and rapidly developing India, Vlassoff lays out the resilient son-preference in reproductive choice in rural Maharashtra. Her strength is her robust village data spanning over three decades for exploring demographic and anthropological issues. The deft analyses of change and continuity in gender inequality, despite gender empowerment laws, holds value for social scientists as well as policy makers." - Tulsi Patel, Professor of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi, India
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