A bit of salt, a trace of life: gender norms and the impact of a salt iodization program on human capital formation of school aged children

Zichen Deng, Maarten Lindeboom

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This paper evaluates the effect of a national salt iodization program on the cognition of school-aged children in China. We focus on the role of gender preferences. Linking pre-eradication iodine deficiency rates with household survey data, we find a strong positive impact of prenatal exposure to the program on cognition and schooling for girls. For boys, we find no effect. Child preferences play an important role in parental investment decisions and impact program effects. We find that parents invest more in girls with a high initial endowment. For boys, this is different. Parents invest in boys, irrespective of their initial endowment. The nationally implemented program may therefore primarily benefit low endowment girls. We then exploit village-level variation in gender attitudes and find that gender attitudes are related to parental investment behavior and that the program's impact is stronger for girls born to parents with strong preferences for boys.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102614
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Health Economics
Publication statusPublished - May 2022


  • Cognitive skills
  • Gender attitudes
  • Iodine
  • Parental investments

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