NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Sons May Increase the Value of Marriage for Men

May 9, 2003

Women who bear children outside of marriage are more likely to marry if they have a son, and when they do marry they tend to marry sooner, according to a study being published next week in the journal Demography.

Mining a database launched in 1968 of thousands of U.S. households, economists Shelly Lundberg and Elaina Rose of the University of Washington - Seattle tracked the mothers of 600 children born out of wedlock. (In one year alone, 1990, there were 1.17 million out-of-wedlock births in the United States.) They found that, in general, having a child lowers a woman's likelihood of marrying. However:

  • An unmarried mother is 42 percent more likely to marry the father if the child is a boy than a girl.
  • Mothers of sons have a clear edge: 21.6 percent of them eventually walked down the aisle with the biological father, while only 15.6 percent of the mothers of daughters did.
  • The gender gap is smaller for mothers marrying a man who is not the father of her child (57 percent compared with 51 percent) -- but there is still an effect.
  • Of the single mothers who eventually married, those with sons tied the knot with a man other than the father when their child was, on average, 3.4 years old.
  • Mothers of daughters waited an average 4.6 years -- but at every age, mothers of boys are 35 percent to 40 percent more likely to marry than mothers of girls.

This is the first (albeit small) study showing a child-gender gap in marriage rates for single mothers, but its findings are hardly an anomaly. To the contrary. They support a growing body of knowledge about the effects of a child's gender on paternal behavior. For men, it seems, sons increase the value of a marriage and how much they'll invest in it.

Source: Sharon Begley, "Single Mothers of Sons More Likely To Marry Than Mothers of Girls," Wall Street Journal, May 9, 2003.

For text (WSJ subscription required),,SB105242529532017200-search,00.html


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