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August 05, 2013

The Demand for Sons

As a firstborn girl, the Editorial Staff couldn't help finding this interesting:

Do parents have preferences over the gender of their children, and if so, does this have negative consequences for daughters versus sons? In this paper, we show that child gender affects the marital status, family structure, and fertility of a significant number of American families. Overall, a first-born daughter is significantly less likely to be living with her father compared to a first-born son. Three factors are important in explaining this gap. First, women with first-born daughters are less likely to marry. Strikingly, we also find evidence that the gender of a child in utero affects shotgun marriages. Among women who have taken an ultrasound test during pregnancy, mothers who have a girl are less likely to be married at delivery than those who have a boy. Second, parents who have first-born girls are significantly more likely to be divorced. Third, after a divorce, fathers are much more likely to obtain custody of sons compared to daughters. These three factors have serious negative income and educational consequences for affected children. What explains these findings? In the last part of the paper, we turn to the relationship between child gender and fertility to help sort out parental gender bias from competing explanations for our findings. We show that the number of children is significantly higher in families with a first-born girl. Our estimates indicate that first-born daughters caused approximately 5500 more births per year, for a total of 220,000 more births over the past 40 years. Taken individually, each piece of empirical evidence is not sufficient to establish the existence of parental gender bias. But taken together, the weight of the evidence supports the notion that parents in the U.S. favour boys over girls.

Posted by Cassandra at August 5, 2013 05:48 AM

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Looked at with a wider lens, globally, the evidence need not be quantified – the preference is open - and disastrous. What 'technology' has made possible is that the preference be made an accomplished fact. The lesser cultures deal with the results with gang rapes, such in India, and a sex industry everywhere. The greater cultures are not immune. It's never the good apple that sweetens the decayed.

All of it suggests that technology is a dangerous thing, even when wielded in humility; in the hands of hubris it is tragic. It also suggests women had better put an end to abortion before they are put to sordid ends, in utero or post.

Posted by: George Pal at August 5, 2013 09:50 AM

Lots of places to confound cause-and-effect. Take "after a divorce, fathers are much more likely to obtain custody of sons compared to daughters.

Is this because fathers are more likely to seek custody of sons, because mothers are less likely to contest custody of sons, or because judges are predisposed to granting custody of the child to the like sex parent?

Three (and possibly more) causes to the same effect. Each would imply different things. (If mothers prefer daughters, how is this evidence of "society's" preference for boys?)

or "Our estimates indicate that first-born daughters caused approximately 5500 more births per year". Is this because "we got our boy, now we can stop"? The LG's best friend stopped after their first born son. It wasn't because they got the son they were after, but because after getting one perpetual motion machine bouncing off the walls, they didn't want to take the chance of getting another one.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 5, 2013 01:40 PM

The historical case for preference of boys over girls is overwhelming and across pretty much all cultures. The explanations for this are numerous and varied, but undeniable even so.

In more savage times, you needed men to hunt for food and to protect the tribe. A stronger tribe with more warriors could, and often did, raid their weaker neighbors for food and women. Women were treated as chattel property until fairly recently in most places. One could argue that they are still treated as such in the Muslim world. India and Asia are not much better. The practice of suttee was not outlawed until relatively recent times.

Indeed, an overabundance of women was cosidered a tribulation. They could not defend themselves or others, for the most part, but were still "mouths to feed" when famine or hunger struck. The concept of a "dowry" arose from the idea that a woman constituted a burden on the man or family who was providing for her. The most common form of inheritance was for the oldest son to do so. Many cultures would not permit a woman to rule as leader, or hold other psitions of power. Such cultural concepts die hard, even long after the reason for their existence ceases to matter.

Posted by: a former european at August 5, 2013 04:51 PM

...an overabundance of women was considered a tribulation....

So IOW, nothing much has changed? :p

Posted by: Cassandra at August 5, 2013 05:52 PM

All of it suggests that technology is a dangerous thing, even when wielded in humility; in the hands of hubris it is tragic.

Amen, George.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 5, 2013 05:53 PM

"Our estimates indicate that first-born daughters caused approximately 5500 more births per year". Is this because "we got our boy, now we can stop"? The LG's best friend stopped after their first born son. It wasn't because they got the son they were after, but because after getting one perpetual motion machine bouncing off the walls, they didn't want to take the chance of getting another one.

Heh :)

I agree that it's the whole "explanations" stage of most research where things jump the shark. Most studies report back the frequency of some phenomenon or other; why it happens is something they usually really don't know.

That said, I've seen a lot of families keep trying until they get a boy. I had two boys right off the bat. There was some temptation to keep trying until I finally had a girl, but the truth is that I wanted three children and my husband wanted two and he 'won' :p

I don't honestly think the outcome would have changed if we'd had two girls - we would still have ended up with two children b/c his concerns centered around the expense of raising children and the time investment and effect on our marriage (plus the fact that both of us were raised in small families, so that seemed "right").

Posted by: Cassandra at August 5, 2013 05:58 PM

That said, I've seen a lot of families keep trying until they get a boy.

I have too. But then I've also seen families keep trying until they get a girl, too.

Before we started having kids we knew we wanted more than one, and four seemed a little much. Three was where we were leaning. But if we had gotten three boys, there's a part of me that might have given it one more try for a girl. I don't know that the reverse would be true. I told the LG that I would be happy if fate decided to give us 3 girls.

As it turned out we got Boy-Girl-Boy so it wasn't an issue.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 6, 2013 09:29 AM

While we haven't started trying to get pregnant yet, the husband just knows we'll have a little girl and already has a name picked out. He says I can name any boys ;-)

Also saw a story on Yahoo! earlier about a family that just bad their 12th son (oldest is 21, and no daughters...).

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at August 7, 2013 05:07 PM

My Dad was fine (from what I hear, anyway) with having a girl. My oldest son actually wanted a girl first, and got two boys :p

I didn't really have strong feelings one way or the other. I wanted a girl the second time around, but even after two ultrasounds telling me the baby was female, somehow I just knew they were wrong.

And they were. They told me 6 pound baby girl. I had a 10 pound baby boy. They weren't wrong... much :p

Posted by: Cass at August 7, 2013 06:01 PM

I think I'd like one of each, but I just want whatever child(ren) we are blessed with to be healthy (and to have as uncomplicated a pregnancy as possible, given any would probably be consider high-risk). Even if we started now, he'd be 46 and I'd be pushing 44 when a bundle of joy arrived (assuming we have no problem getting pregnant) and we'd both be in our sixties by the time high school graduation rolled around :-P

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at August 7, 2013 06:15 PM

I wish you all the best of luck, Mrs. Ladybug! :p

But most of all, I wish you joy. My life has turned out to be so completely different from what I envisioned for myself all those many years ago.

But it's all good. I didn't get so many things I really wanted, but then I was blessed with so many things I wasn't smart enough to wish for.

Posted by: Cass at August 7, 2013 06:34 PM

Thanks, Cass. We both feel lucky to have found one another and look forward to growing old together. He makes me very happy. I still need to ask him how he wants me to "name" him online. Mr. Ladybug just doesn't sound right :-P

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at August 7, 2013 11:38 PM

"Also saw a story on Yahoo! earlier about a family that just bad their 12th son (oldest is 21, and no daughters...)."

Families that have all sons are not unusual. One "good Irish Catholic" family of my acquaintance had 6 boys, and the father was one of 5 boys. If you understand that the sex of the child is determined by the father (XX or XY), you'll know why you never hear of families that have all daughters.

Posted by: bud at August 8, 2013 06:22 PM

My father was an only child (his mother was in her 30s when he was born, and I am unaware of any other (unsuccessful) pregnancies or attempts to get pregnant.

My mother, on the other hand, is the oldest of 6 children (2 girls and 4 boys) and I am pretty sure my maternal grandmother had a few miscarriages, as well. All six siblings had children. I am one of four (older brother, younger sisters), my mom's sister had 4 boys, mom's oldest brother had 4 (3 girls, 1 boy), the next eldest brother had 4 boys, the next brother had 2 girls and the youngest brother had 3 boys.

Oh, and didn't some English king get rid of a couple of wives because they "wouldn't give him sons"?

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at August 9, 2013 01:26 PM

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