The female population deficit in India has been explained in a number of ways, but the great
heterogeneity in the deficit across districts within India still remains an open question. I argue that
across India, a largely agrarian economy, soil texture varies exogenously and determines the
technology of agricultural production. Labor-saving deep plow technology, used in loamy but not
in clayey soils, reduces female relative to male employment and has a negative impact on the
relative value of girls to a household. I find that 62 percent of within-state variation in the relative
participation of women in agriculture and 70 percent of the variation in infant sex ratios can be
explained by differences between the fractions of loamy and clayey soils in a district. I show that
alternate mechanisms –productivity, crop mix, migration or culture– do not account for the results.
Channels of influence on the sex ratio include pre-natal sex selection and fewer investments in
female child immunizations. Although lesser labor market opportunities for women in deep plow
agriculture reduce investments on the survival of girls relative to boys, they also reduce the time
opportunity cost of investments in female education.