Despite rising incomes and rapid economic growth, there remains a significant gender gap in health outcomes among rural children in China. This study examines whether the gender gap in child health is related to the behavior of caregivers when seeking healthcare, and whether healthcare subsidies help to bridge the gender gap in rural health outcomes.
Focusing on vision care specifically, we draw on data from a randomized controlled trial of 13,100 children in Gansu and Shaanxi provinces in China that provided subsidized eyeglasses to myopic children in one set of schools (henceforth, referred to as the treatment schools) and provided prescription information but not subsidized eyeglasses to myopic children in another set of schools (control schools).
The baseline results reveal that while female students generally have worse vision than male students, they are significantly less likely than male students to be taken by their caregivers to a vision exam. The experimental results indicate, however, that caregivers respond positively to both health information and subsidized healthcare, regardless of the gender of their children. When prescription information is paired with a subsidy voucher for healthcare (a free pair of eyeglasses), the uptake rate rises dramatically.
The gender gap in healthcare can be minimized by implementing subsidized healthcare policies.