Introduction Emperical findings for western countries
2 Reasons for gender preferences

The bulk of the literature on gender preferences deals with less developed countries, where mainly the desire for a balanced number of daughters and sons (or at least one child of each sex) and a preference for sons (often together with a balance preference) is observed. For instance, Arnold [1] provides a detailed study of 44 countries with Demographic and Health Surveys in the period from 1986 to 1995.

He finds son preference in a range of different countries, demonstrating that such preferences do not emerge from a single set of historical and cultural experiences. While the Southeast Asian nations do not show any consistent gender preference, the Caribbean is the only region studied by Arnold, where a prevalent preference for daughters has been found. In general, however, he argues that the effect of gender preferences on fertility and family planning is not very strong.

Parents’ gender preferences for children are embedded in cultural and religious traditions and community norms, shaping individual attitudes and behavior. Children of a particular sex are often desired in order to provide certain utilities or to minimize financial or psychological costs [28]. In traditional societies, male offspring are presumed to have greater economic net utility than daughters, since they provide assistance in agriculture, as well as a primitive social security system. In some situations, however, daughters are thought to be more reliable in providing old age assistance, particularly emotional support. They are also frequently desired in order to help with household tasks or to care for younger children. Sons, on the other hand, quite often fill sex-specific religious roles and insure kinship continuity in patrilineal societies. There is some evidence that the desire for additional children (if there is any at all) is curtailed once the minimum number of surviving male children is achieved [28]. However, even in societies with pervasive son preference, many families consider it important to have at least one daughter among their children [1].

But why should there be gender preferences in modern societies? When children are no longer a source of economic security, they no longer provide economic net utility, but rather lead to significant time and monetary costs. Arguably children are more valued today for social and psychological reasons. Hoffman and Hoffman [15] developed a detailed theory of the value of children. They list a number of categories, describing potential values that parents’ might attribute to their children, such as: expansion of the self, affiliation, accomplishment, social comparison, economic utility. Thus parents may desire a sex mix because of the different benefits that accrue from each sex for each of the categories. Each partner, for example, might prefer to have at least one child of his or her own sex for the purpose of companionship [16]. Further evidence that psychological factors are associated with gender preferences is provided by Bulatao [5], who discusses values and disvalues attached to children across different parities in the Philippines, Korea, and the United States. His findings suggest a multistage pattern: At low parities, emotional and psychological rationales for having any children at all dominate. At higher parities, balancing the family becomes important. In particular, specific gender preferences are found to be most prominent at the third and fourth child. Finally, parities above five are characterized by potential economic benefits from children.

Introduction Emperical findings for western countries

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Gender Preferences for Children in Europe: Empirical Results from 17 FFS Countries
Karsten Hank and Hans-Peter Kohler
© 2000 Max-Planck-Gesellschaft ISSN 1435-9871