NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 16, 2009

The trend is buried deep in United States census data: seemingly minute deviations in the proportion of boys and girls born to Americans of Chinese, Indian and Korean descent.  In those families, if the first child was a girl, it was more likely that a second child would be a boy, according to recent studies of census data.  If the first two children were girls, it was even more likely that a third child would be male.  Demographers say the statistical deviation among Asian-American families is significant, and they believe it reflects not only a preference for male children, but a growing tendency for these families to embrace sex-selection techniques, like in vitro fertilization and sperm sorting, or abortion.

A number of experts expressed surprise to see evidence that the preference for sons among Asian-Americans has been so significantly carried over to this country. "That this is going on in the United States -- people were blown away by this," said Prof. Lena Edlund of Columbia University.  She and her colleague Prof. Douglas Almond studied 2000 census data and published their results last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:

  • In general, more boys than girls are born in the United States, by a ratio of 1.05 to 1.
  • But among American families of Chinese, Korean and Indian descent, the likelihood of having a boy increased to 1.17 to 1 if the first child was a girl, according to the Columbia economists.
  • If the first two children were girls, the ratio for a third child was 1.51 to 1 -- or about 50 percent greater -- in favor of boys.

Studies have not detected a similar preference for males among Japanese-Americans.  The findings published by Professors Almond and Edlund were bolstered this year by the work of a University of Texas economist, Prof. Jason Abrevaya:

  • He found that on the basis of census and birth records through 2004, the incidence of boys among immigrant Chinese parents in New York was higher than the national average for Chinese families.
  • Boys typically account for about 515 of every 1,000 births.
  • But he found that among Chinese New Yorkers having a third child, the number of boys was about 558.

Source: Sam Roberts, "U.S. Births Hint at Bias for Boys in Some Asians," New York Times, June 15, 2009.

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