Understanding wealth-based inequalities in child health in India: A decomposition approach

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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India experienced tremendous economic growth since the mid-1980s but this growth was paralleled by sharp rises in economic inequality. Urban areas experienced greater economic growth as well as greater increases in economic inequality than rural areas. During the same period, child health improved on average but socioeconomic differentials in child health persisted. This paper attempts to explain wealth-based inequalities in child mortality and malnutrition using a regression-based decomposition approach. Data for the analysis come from the 1992/93, 1998/99, and 2005/06 Indian National Family Health Surveys. Inequalities in child health are measured using the concentration index. The concentration index for each outcome is then decomposed into the contributions of wealth-based inequality in the observed determinants of child health. Results indicate that mortality inequality declined in urban areas but remained unchanged or increased in rural areas. Malnutrition inequality increased dramatically both in urban and rural areas. The two largest individual/household-level sources of disparities in child health are (i) inequality in the distribution of wealth itself, and (ii) inequality in maternal education. The contributions of observed determinants (i) to neonatal mortality inequality remained unchanged, (ii) to child mortality inequality increased, and (ii) to malnutrition inequality increased. It is possible that the increases in child health inequality reflect urban biases in economic growth, and the mixed performance of public programs that could have otherwise offset the impacts of unequal growth.