Legal identity for all? Gender inequality in the timing of birth registration in Mexico

Harbers, I. (2020). Legal identity for all? Gender inequality in the timing of birth registration in Mexico. World Development, Volume 128,

Despite recent advances, many low and middle-income countries do not have a comprehensive system for civil registration. Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goal of providing ‘legal identity for all’ therefore requires an effort to ensure timely birth registration among societal groups that have remained at the margins. Timely registration is crucial for the effective guarantee of individual identities, since delays are associated with under-registration, and incorrect records. The paper examines gender inequality in registration. Based on demographic data for Mexico, a higher middle-income country that has recently made considerable progress with regard to birth registration, it shows that gender bias is expressed not only in the under-registration of girls, but also in systematically longer delays compared to their male counterparts. To understand this, the paper conceptualizes registration as an informed decision by citizens about the perceived costs and benefits of obtaining documents. The paper leverages a novel data source – a dataset of roughly 80 million records for births registered by the Mexican state between 1985 and 2014 – to investigate not just whether citizens obtain documents, but also when they do so. The analysis demonstrates that delays in registration decrease when obtaining documents provides tangible benefits for citizens. The introduction of Progresa, a conditional cash transfer program targeting poor households, is associated with shorter delays in registration among younger cohorts, and an increase in registration among women. Positive incentives for registration thus ensure that parents actively seek documents for their children. Conditional cash transfer programs, which operate in many countries, can play an important role in creating such incentives.