Women’s position is often seen as key to improved child nutrition. Empowered women may improve children’s nutritional status through having greater access to (nutrition) information, more (in)direct resources, and a better bargaining position. However, previous studies have mostly focused on South Asia, while little is known about sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, in many cultures child nutritional status also varies by gender and birth order because of differential food allocation and (in)formal care practices. Whereas more empowered women can be expected to increase children’s nutritional status overall, it is unclear whether they also compensate sibling inequalities in nutritional status.
In this paper we study the interplay of women’s position, sibling inequalities, and child nutritional status in Ethiopia, the second most populous country in Africa, undergoing rapid socio-economic transition characterized by growing GDP, steep urban fertility decline, and increasing female education. We base our analysis on a pooled sample of the 2011/12, 2013/14, and 2015/16 waves of the Ethiopian Socioeconomic Survey using 9,974 observations from 5,385 children nested in 2,996 households. We find that girls do worse than boys in terms of height-for-age and weight-for-age. Children with better educated mothers have significantly better nutritional outcomes. Fixed-effect models, controlling for all (un)observed household characteristics, show that the higher a child’s parity, the lower their height-for-age and weight-for-age. Analyses including interactions of respectively gender and birth order with mother’s education show that higher-educated mothers compensate sibling equalities in birth order and ameliorate the nutritional status of later-born boys and girls in the household.