This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Preferences for Male Children Are Easing Around the World

A recently published study by sociologist Kana Fuse shows that in developing countries there is now a widespread preference for a sex balance among children, based on responses to Demographic and Health Surveys. In fact, in virtually every one of the 50 countries for which data were available, a majority of women indicated that they wanted either the same number of boys and girls, or they had no preference. The countries with the strongest preference for males over females (even though sex preference was a minority of all responses) were in southern Asia (Pakistan, Nepal, and India) and in west Africa (especially Senegal, Mali, and Burkina Faso). There are also regions in which female children are favored over males (although again a specific sex preference was the minority of all responses).

When we compare the percentage of women who have son and daughter preferences, we find that, in all of the Latin American/Caribbean countries except for Bolivia, more women report having a daughter preference. The percentage of women exhibiting a daughter preference is especially high in the Dominican Republic (33.2%) and in Haiti (23.2). This is consistent with prior anthropological research in the Caribbean, which found that matrifocal kinship patterns are prevalent, and that daughters are thus highly valued.
Thus, this cross-national comparison has demonstrated that son preference is not always the dominant type of gender preference, and that daughter preference is common in many societies. This is an intriguing finding, given that most previous studies of gender preference in developing countries have focused heavily on son preference. The discovery that different societies have different attitudes about gender preference suggests that more research is needed to help us better understand the context of each specific situation.

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