In this article we investigate the role of parental and family characteristics as explanations for gender differences in children’s education using primary data collected from villages in West Bengal, India in 2007–08. We add to existing research by focusing on the importance of parental perceptions by distinguishing between the stated need for education in general and the need for education for girls to investigate the pathways through which girls’ education may be improved. Results show that while girls are being enrolled at the same rate as boys when young, they are being withdrawn at much higher rates as they get older, often for marriage or financial reasons. Multivariate analyses show significant gender bias in education among the older sample (17 years and over) and some important differences among predictors for male and female education for both samples. For the older sample, financial constraints are more important for curtailing a daughter’s education than a son’s education. Among the indicators of parental perception, the expectation of economic independence for girls has a positive effect on girls’ education, but parental expectation of the enhancement of traditional roles (as wives and mothers) through girls’ education has a beneficial effect on boys’ education.

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