Discussion paper

DP17416 Missing girls in Liberal Italy, 1861-1921

By relying on the relative number of boys per hundred girls as a cumulative measure of differential mortality during birth, infancy and childhood, this paper shows that Italian average child sex ratios (aged 0-4) were very high between 1861 and 1921. Our estimations indicate that unexplained female mortality could have resulted in around 2-3 per cent of “missing girls” during this period. Likewise, by constructing a new dataset on child sex ratios at the provincial level during the same period (roughly 69 provinces x 6 census years), this article shows that child sex ratios tended to be higher in Southern Italy, a geographical cleavage that became stronger as time went by. Crucially, the results reported here, both at the national and the province levels, cannot be explained by registration issues because (1) the analysis holds if we focus on the child sex ratios of older children (aged 5-9) and (2) female excess mortality is also visible using death registers. Lastly, this article shows that unexplained female mortality early in life disappeared from the 1920s onwards, thus suggesting that either discriminatory practices gradually vanished and/or that they no longer translated into higher mortality rates due to increasing living standards.


Beltrán Tapia, F and G Cappelli (2022), ‘DP17416 Missing girls in Liberal Italy, 1861-1921‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 17416. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp17416