Volume 27 - Article 16 | Pages 429–454

Like daughter, like son? Fertility decline and the transformation of gender systems in the family

By Keera Allendorf

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Date received:14 Feb 2012
Date published:02 Oct 2012
Word count:7933
Keywords:Asia, family, fertility, gender, India, parental support, son preference


Background: An important question for population research is whether fertility decline transforms gender systems.

Objective: This paper contributes to answering this broad question by examining how fertility decline may change the relative value and roles of daughters versus sons in families. First, I outline theoretical pathways, suggesting that a key factor is the gender composition of families. As fertility declines, the proportion of families with children of only one gender increases, which may facilitate greater gender symmetry between daughters and sons. Second, I explore how fertility decline may be transforming the relative value and roles of sons and daughters in practice in one place.

Methods: The analysis draws primarily on semi-structured interviews with 30 respondents living in one Indian village.

Results: In recent decades, fertility has declined to at least replacement levels. Respondents also perceive changes in the gender system, including less son preference, more equal schooling for sons and daughters, more freedom in marriage and pre-marital relationships, and perhaps greater daughter support of parents in old age.

Conclusions: The results describe changes in the relative value, treatment, and behavior of sons and daughters that are consistent with the theorized effects of fertility decline. Future research is needed, however, to determine whether fertility decline makes a unique causal contribution to changes in the gender system.

Author's Affiliation

Keera Allendorf - Indiana University, United States of America [Email]

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