Economic Woman

Econometrics, gender, equity and more.

Unwanted daughters

with 2 comments

Yesterday afternoon, as I sat in a library cafeteria approximating volume by cylindrical shells (calculus exam in t-minus 8 days!) I was distracted by the couple beside me. They were arguing over whether to get married. He wanted to get hitched and move to Chicago; she said that he was too sexist to spend her life with. Apparently, he had said at some point said that given the choice, he would prefer a son to a daughter, because a son would be more likely to provide for him in his old age.

A bias towards male offspring is something that we tend to associate with other countries, but this paper, by Gordon B. Dahl and Enrico Moretti at Berkeley, shows that “the demand for sons” is alive and well in the United States. They find that first-born daughters are less likely to end up living with their fathers than first-born sons. I’m going to quote at length from the abstract because it is so interesting.

Three factors are important in explaining this gap. First, women with first-born daughters are less likely to marry.Strikingly, we also find evidence that the gender of a child in utero affects shotgun marriages. Among women who have taken an ultrasound test during pregnancy, mothers who have a girl are less likely to be married at delivery than mothers who have a boy. Second, parents who have first-born girls are significantly more likely to be divorced. Third, after a divorce, fathers are much more likely to obtain custody of sons compared to daughters. These three factors have serious negative income and educational consequences for affected children.

Hat tip to Freakonomics for the paper.


Written by Allison

17 April 2008 at 12:43 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with ,

2 Responses

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  1. That in utero known child gender evidence seems particularly good since the sex of the child is random.


    15 May 2008 at 1:42 pm

  2. This is a small point, but a biologist would tell you that the sex of a child isn’t entirely random. It seems to be affected by a variety of factors, from the mother’s nutrition to the social status of the family. Even in the West, where most pregnant women are in pretty good condition, working class families are more likely to have daughters. In terms of reproductive success, they’re a safer investment for a family with low status – men’s reproductive success is much more variable.


    15 May 2008 at 1:48 pm

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