The Price of Tea in China

“If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years there’d be a shortage of sand.” – Milton Friedman

It was welfare economist Amartya Sen who first noticed the women were missing. An estimated 100 million women were simply not in existence in developing nations. Sen argued that this was due to wide-spread gender bias in nations such as China and India. These strong patriarchal societies elevated boys and raped, murdered, aborted, infanticide-d, etc its women. One abortion clinic in Mumbai, India advertised the slogan, “Better pay 500 rupiahs now than 50,000 rupiahs later.” (In reference to the cost of an abortion versus the cost of a dowry for a girl.)

Years later, however, another economist, Emily Oster, suggested that perhaps it wasn’t society to blame, but disease for the missing women. She noticed that pregnant women who were infected with Hepatitis B were more likely to give birth to a boy than a girl. Incidences of Hepatitis B are higher in developing countries and she concludes that these women aren’t “missing.” Biologically, they never existed in the first place.

However, Oster only accounts for some of the missing women. She estimates Hepatitis B infections account for 75% of the missing women in China but only 20% in India. So it seems that both accounts are correct.

So what does this have to do with the price of tea in China?

China is the world’s largest producer of tea. The tea bush has a rather low height, giving women (biologically shorter on average) an advantage in the tea-picking industry. If women are economically more valuable, than they are less likely to be discarded by society. If the price of tea were to rise, women’s economic values would rise as well.

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