Laws and cultural norms tied to inheritance and marriage may help explain differences in attitudes toward sons, daughters and abortion. This sidebar offers a very elementary glance at Indian laws, norms and traditions that might be tied to sex selection.

Inheritance: Inheritance traditions are among the barriers that Indian women face, even though laws in most cases grant equal inheritance rights to sons and daughters.

India’s major religious groups are subject to different inheritance laws.

Marriage: Most marriages in India are arranged, with parents typically making the choice (sometimes in consultation with the prospective brides and grooms) based on factors such as caste and religion.

Hindus discourage marriages within kinship groups. In addition, according to Hindu custom, it is generally unacceptable for married women to materially support their parents.43

Some scholars argue that Muslim marriage customs are less disadvantageous to women than those of Hindus.44 For example, Muslims favor close-kin marriages, which means that Muslim daughters tend to live relatively close to their natal family after marriage.45 Moreover, Muslim daughters are customarily allowed to help their natal family financially, and thus are less likely to be seen as an economic liability.

Christians mostly reside in the South and Northeast, where marriage customs are widely viewed as less disadvantageous to women than customs in other regions.46

Abortion: As generally understood, India’s major religions do not broadly condone abortion. But it has been legal in India since 1971.47

A major Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2019-20 among nearly 30,000 people across India finds that 55% of Indian adults say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. Roughly half or more of adults surveyed in most of India’s major religious groups say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, including 60% of Sikhs, 57% of Muslims, 54% of Hindus and 49% of Christians.48

Dowry: Many researchers attribute India’s widespread son preference and daughter aversion partly to the higher cost of raising daughters through the dowry tradition.49

Dowries, which were confined to a minority of Indians a century ago and were outlawed in 1961, are now prevalent across regions, castes and religions.50 (Gifts from the groom’s family to the bride’s family, known as “bridewealth” or “dower,” are given less commonly and tend to be much smaller.) Although dowry is traditionally a voluntary gift by parents to their daughters and her new family at the time of marriage, in practice it is sometimes a “price” demanded by the groom’s family.51 Not providing a sufficient dowry at marriage, or failing to meet continued demands for dowry payments after marriage, has sometimes led to harassment and violence against brides by husbands and their families, and, in some cases, to suicide.52 Parents feel obliged to pay a large dowry to marry their daughter into a socially desirable family.53