The Demand for Sons: Not Only in China

Many Americans recoil at reports from Asia where the preference for sons over daughters accounts for an imbalance of 80-million “missing” females from the normal number of male and female children. Yet while Americans may read with some horror the fate of female embryos and female infants in Asia, they may not realize that American parents, especially fathers, also favor boys over girls.

In “The Demand for Sons: Evidence from Divorce, Fertility and Shotgun Weddings,” published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Gordon Dahl and Enrico Moretti argue that this parental preference affects divorce, child custody, marriage and shotgun weddings when the sex is known before, child support payments, and the decision of the parents not to have any more children.

Among other conclusions, Dahl and Moretti assert that:

> In “shotgun” marriages, those which follow pregnancy in an unmarried couple, data from California suggests that for those who have an ultrasound test, the first-time mothers of boys are much more likely to be married at the time the child is born. “The evidence suggests that fathers who find out the child will be a boy are more likely to marry their partner before delivery,” write Dahl and Moretti.

> Parents with girls are more likely to be divorced or separated than parents with boys. This likelihood, though diminishing in recent years, amounts to a 1 to 7 percent “higher probability of divorce.”

> Divorced fathers are 11 to 22 percent more likely to have custody of their sons in all-boy versus all-girl families.

> In families with at least two children, the probability of parents deciding on having another child is higher for all-girl families than for all-boy families.

Since at least 1941, men have told pollsters that they prefer a boy to a girl. Taking all the evidence together, Dahl and Moretti conclude that parents in the United States prefer sons.

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