Volume 30 - Article 2 | Pages 49–70

Sex composition of children, parental separation, and parity progression: Is Finland a Nordic outlier?

By Jan Saarela, Fjalar Finnäs

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Date received:21 May 2013
Date published:10 Jan 2014
Word count:5294
Keywords:Finland, longitudinal population register data, parental boy/girl preference, parity progression, separation


Background: Previous studies that have studied parental gender preferences for children have analysed either divorce or parity progression. We use Finnish register data that make it possible to study both events simultaneously by following the same couples with children over time.

Objective: Our aim is to study how the sex composition of children relates to parental separation and continued childbearing, considering that within the same institutional context both aspects likely reflect gender preferences for children.

Methods: We perform parity-specific Cox regressions where parity progression and separation (divorce or split up) are treated as two competing events.

Results: Our results suggest that, in the 1970s and early 1980s, there was a parental boy preference in Finland, which makes the country different from its Nordic neighbours. Both the risks of divorce and continued childbearing were higher among couples with only girls than among those with only boys. This difference had attenuated considerably since the 1970s, and was practically non-existent in the 1990s. Complementary analyses of married and cohabiting couples’ risk of split up and continued childbearing support the conclusion.

Conclusions: As compared with the other Nordic countries, Finland seems to have experienced a later development of implementing modern family roles and a more egalitarian distribution of parents’ attention to sons and daughters. The lag might be due to a relatively late and fast industrialisation and urbanisation process.

Comments: Like in the United States, the boy preference seems to have attenuated over time, which would be in correspondence with an increased secularisation and gender equalisation of society.

Author's Affiliation

Jan Saarela - Åbo Akademi University, Finland [Email]
Fjalar Finnäs - Åbo Akademi University, Finland [Email]

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

» Language-group Differences in Very Early Retirement in Finland
Volume 7 - Article 3

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