NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 10, 2004

Fathers prefer sons. Since 1941, men have told pollsters by more than a two-to-one margin that they would rather have a boy. According to a new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, these preferences directly influence decisions to marry and divorce.

The authors analyze statistical evidence based on the U.S. Census from 1940 to 2000 and state databases. They find:

  • Women with only daughters are 2 to 7 percent more likely to have never been married than women with only boys.
  • For those having an ultrasound test, first-time mothers carrying a boy are much more likely to be married at delivery.
  • Parents with girls are 1 to 7 percent more likely to be divorced, with larger families seeing more divorces; this is prevalent across all race and education groups.

Apparently, this effect is not limited to the United States. In developing countries like China, Vietnam, Mexico, Colombia and Kenya, all-girl families are more likely to experience divorce and to have additional children than all-boy families. Divorced fathers are more likely to have custody of their sons.

This preference for sons could matter more in the future. As technology improves, it will be easier to determine a baby's sex. This might cause larger cultural and social problems as the gender ratio destabilizes.

Source: David R. Francis, "Do Fathers Prefer Sons?" NBER Digest, October 2004; based upon: Gordon Dahl and Enrico Moretti, "The Demand for Sons: Evidence from Divorce, Fertility, and Shotgun Marriage," Working Paper No. 10281, National Bureau of Economic Research, February 2004.

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