August 9, 2022

Economix: Preferring Boys to Girls

China isn’t the only country where parents have a distinct preference for baby boys rather than baby girls. Americans prefers XY to XX in their offspring, too — and have wanted boys rather than girls for the last 70 years.

A recent Gallup poll asked Americans which sex they would prefer if they could have only one child. About 40 percent said they would prefer a boy and 28 percent would prefer a girl, with the rest saying they had no preference or opinion on the question.

Gallup has asked some version of this question 10 times since 1941, and the results always indicated a preference for boys:


Not all adults are equally likely to want boys rather than girls, though.

According to Gallup’s findings, men are the primary drivers of this tilt toward boys; women, on the other hand, generally show no preference either way. Younger adults — those 18 to 29 — are also much more likely than their older counterparts to say they prefer a boy.


Less education attainment is also associated with a greater preference for boys:


It’s not clear why Americans would overwhelmingly prefer boys.

In many East Asian countries, having boys can provide greater economic security, since in their old age parents are more likely to live with, and be financially supported by, their sons. But, as Nancy Folbre has written, the opposite is true in America: in the United States, daughters are much more likely to be caring for their elderly parents than sons are.

Then again, women may do more unpaid work than men in the United States (as well as just about everywhere else), but men still have much higher earnings. Perhaps there is a perception that having a son will guarantee greater financial stability.

Or maybe some other risks that come with having a daughter — such as unplanned pregnancies — weigh heavier in Americans’ minds when thinking about this question.

Any other theories, readers?

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