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Monday, August 5, 2013

Boys vs Girls: America's Demand for Sons

Many readers are aware of the Asian preference for baby boys over baby girls. What you may not know is that the introduction of the ultrasound machine in Asia has led to the disappearance (i.e., through abortion, infanticide, etc.) of an estimated 160 million females in Asia. Aside from the morally problematic nature of gender-based abortions, as Mara Hvistendahl has pointed out ("Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men) this has led to higher rates of sex-trafficking, incidents of AIDS, and crime.

Asia's not the only area of the world where people prefer boys over girls. Americans do too, as they have for over 70 years. The table below summarizes survey results from 1941 to 2011 to the question, "Suppose you could only have one child. Would you prefer that it be a boy or a girl?As you can see there is very little change between 1941 and 2011. There's a bit of an uptick, but that's probably due to sampling error ("Americans Prefer Boys to Girls, Just as They Did in 1941"):


Boy
Girl
Either
Unsure
No Opinion

%
%
%
%
%
2011
40
28
26
3
3
2007
37
28
26
5
4
2003
38
28
27
5
2
2000
42
27
25
4
2
1997
36
23
38
2
1
1997
41
29
25
--
5
1996
41
31
25
--
3
1990
38
34
24
--
4
1947
40
25
27
--
8
1941
38
24
23
--
15

The consequences for this in America are not as profound as they are in Asia (probably because of America's more restrictive norms concerning abortion), but the preference for boys over girls does have some negative effects: For example, a recent study ("The Demand for Sons") found that
  • Couples who conceive a child out of wedlock and find out that it will be a boy are more likely to marry before the birth of their baby
  • Parents who have first-born girls are significantly more likely to be divorced
  • Fathers are significantly less likely to be living with their children if they have daughters versus sons
  • In any given year, roughly 52,000 first-born daughters younger than 12 years (and all their siblings) would have had a resident father if they had been boys
  • Divorced fathers are much more likely to obtain custody of sons compared to daughters
  • For children and families with absentee fathers due to a first-born daughter, family income is reduced by about 50 percent and poverty rates are increased by about 30 percent 
Why? Well, that is the subject of a recent Freakonomics podcast (“Do Baby Girls Cause Divorce?”), which can be downloaded from iTunes or listened to at the Freakonomics website. 

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