Saturday, October 23, 2010

Education in a global village - a Seminar on 'Sex Selection' in University of Bristol

Bristol University had organized a one day conference on "Sex Selection and Parental Investment- the interplay of technology and economic change" today ( October 22, 2010). Since the subject is close to my heart (atleast thats what I claim!) and something I am associated with for the last 7 years, I took the opportunity to attend the conference. Anyway, I had not been to Bristol so far and it gave me an intellectual enough reason to be in city of Raja Ram Mohan Roy!And it turned out to be one of the best expositions of peer review of papers.

The conference had some of the best demographers and economists working the field of sex selective abortions and trends in different countries and policy options there upon. The list included the following :

1. Prashant Bharadwaj (UC San Diego ) with Leah Nelson
Paper - "Discrimination begins in the womb: Evidence of sex selective prenatal care"
Discussant: Sarah Smith (University of Bristol)
2. Sonia Bhalotra, University of Bristol
Paper - "Where have all the young girls gone? Identifying the role of ultrasound diffusion in explaining the rising trend in sex selection in India" (with Tom Cochrane)
Discussant: Doug Almond (University of Columbia)
3. Sylvie Dubuc, University of Oxford
Paper - "Son-preference and prenatal sex-selection among Indian immigrants in the UK"
Discussant: James Fenske (University of Oxford)
4. Doug Almond, Columbia University, NY
Paper - "Son preference and the persistence of culture: evidence from Asian immigrants to Canada " (With Lena Edlund and Kevin Milligan)
Discussant: Frank Windmeijer (University of Bristol)
5. Arthur van Soest, Tilburg University
Paper - "Birth spacing, child survival and fertility in Bangladesh- Evidence from the Matlab experiment " (With Unnati Rani Saha).
Discussant: ChristineValente (University of Sheffield)
6. Aloysius Siow, University of Toronto
Paper - "Large shocks and small changes in the marriage market for famine born cohorts in China" (With Loren Brandt and Carl Vogel)
Each of the speakers apoke for about 50 minutes followed by review of the paper by the discussant and questions. And, the peer review by discussants turned out to be a real eye opener. The actual paper, based on which speakers made their presentations were already circulated to discussants in advance. They, in a very constructive manner, pointed out the fallacies, if any, and what else could be added in the paper. The most comprehensive and detailed review was by Christine on Arthur's paper on 'Matlab experiment' in Bangladesh. She pointed that sibling rivalry is missing and that one of Arthur's graph was factually incorrect among others. The most interesting review though was by Prof Frank Windmeijer on Doug Almond's paper where in Frank pointed out certain loose corelations drawn in the paper and amateurish language used while interpreting econometric anaylsis. For instance he pointed out from Doug's paper - "although statistically insignifcant, the confidence interval includes a substantially higher degree of sex selection for adult immigrants" It was truely hilarious.

I learnt during the seminar that with the advancement in scanning technology, the sex of the fetus can now be reasonably ascertained at the fetal age of 12 weeks onwards. It was about 18 weeks till recently and advancement of sex detection by 12 weeks may lead to early abortions.

Prof Sonia was most impressive in her analysis. She pointed out that education, caste and wealth are inversely related with the sex ratio at birth in India implying that as they go up, the sex ratio actually falls!! This has been emperically noticed during the 2001 census and her findings, based on the NFHS data, confirms the same.

Among others, she pointed out that the sex ratio for second and third child, if the first or first two are girls declines sharply in India:
Sex Selective abortions and falling sex ratio is no longer a phenomenon in India or China alone. What is however interesting is how Indians are spreading the malaise in other countries such as Canada, USA and UK too. It may sound a very generalistic statement but look at these graphs (based on Doug's presentation) :
It show the Sex ratio for the first child, second child when first is a girl and third child when the first two are girls in Canada. The graph shows that sex ratio for the tird child is 526 girls per 1000 boys born which means that almost 450 girls per 1000 boys are getting aborted.
LIkewise, the second graph shows the sex ratio for the 3rd child is 440 per 1000 boys among the Sikh community in Canada implying that more than 50% of the girls are getting aborted.

The same is the case in UK. Sylvie, in her presentation pointed out that even though the sex ratio in UK is not available ethinicity wise ( it is being taken up in 2011 census), she compiled the information based on ONS survey data and here too, it shows that the sex ratio has been deteriorating among Indian born mother in UK when compared with UK born mothers.

It was perhaps my first exposure to a real peer level review of papers and I was amazed at the intellectual honesty and depth with which these papers are analysed and at times tore apart. It also, in the process, becomes an intellectual aphrodisiac especially when the paper is approved, appreciated or critically commented at. It was a scenario where out of about 14 people who were in the seminar room ( including yours truely), none left anywhere from morning till 6 pm and it was one of the most intense and engaging session I have ever attended.

It was certainly my best day intellectually ever since I came to UK. Alas, it wasn't LSE! To me, a student of LSE, attending a seminar in University of Bristol which was attended by some of the best brains across the globe on a subject which is very India centric is a brilliant illustration of imbibing best of education in a global village.

Bristol, by the way, is also associated with Raja Ram Mohan Roy. It was here that Roy died at Stapleton, which was then a village to the north east of Bristol but currently a suburb, on September 27, 1833 and was buried in Arnos Vale Cemetery in southern Bristol.

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