Insight

What Psychologists Know that You Don’t

Why Parents of Girls Divorce More

Is it really better to have a boy?

Why Parents of Girls Divorce More
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Yes, it's true. In generation after generation across many countries, parents of girls divorce more than do parents of boys.

As Steven E. Landsburg put it in his Oct 2003 article for Slate magazine, "All over the world, boys hold marriages together, and girls break them up."

Economists Gordon Dahl (at the University of Rochester) and Enrico Moretti (at UCLA) discovered the following facts in 2003: In the United States, the parents of a girl are nearly 5 percent more likely to divorce than the parents of a boy. The parents of three girls are close to 10 percent more likely to divorce than the parents of three boys. 

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Not only do parents of daughters divorce more, but divorced women with daughters are substantially less likely to remarry than divorced women with sons. Landsburg suggested that "daughters are a liability in the market for a husband. Not only do daughters lower the probability of remarriage; they also lower the probability that a second marriage, if it does occur, will succeed."

Perhaps most incredible are Dahl and Moretti's findings from unmarried couples who are expecting a child. If the couple is expecting a boy, they are more likely to get married. Landsburg interpreted this fact in the following way, "Apparently, for unmarried fathers, the prospect of living with a wife and a son is more alluring than the prospect of living with a wife and a daughter."

Is Landsburg right? Are daughters a curse for marriages? Why is that? Dahl and Moretti have summarized attempts to explain their facts as follows: Sons may either improve the quality of married life or worsen the pain of divorce (perhaps by becoming more distraught when the father leaves). Landsburg chooses the former explanation based on the fact that parents, on average, prefer having boys over having girls.

However, these explanations seem to have overlooked several important facts:

1.  Recent statistics in the US show that 73% of divorces involve wives leaving their husbands. So, perhaps we should be wondering, "Why are mothers of daughters divorcing more than mothers of sons?"

2.  When adult sons live at home, they add to the daily workload of their parents. When adult daughters live at home, they decrease the daily workload.*

3.  Females offer more and better social support than do men (see Shelley Taylor's 2002 book, The Tending Instinct).

4.  An enormous human motivation is avoiding being lonely (see Cacioppo and Patrick's 2008 book, Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection).

When we add up these facts, a conclusion we might draw is that wives with daughters are less likely to stay with their husbands because they know that with a girl, they'll never be lonely or without help. Thus, they may be less willing to tolerate any bad behaviors from their husbands (and less willing to stay married) because they don't need their husbands as much. This idea could even explain why couples expecting a girl are less likely to marry: A woman carrying a girl anticipates that she won't need a husband.

So, moms and dads of boys and girls, what do you think is going on? Please comment!

My blog is at https://www.TheCleverStudent.com

My paperback book, The Clever Student (2010), can be ordered at http://www.corbypublishing.com/product_info.php?products_id=109

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References

*South, S. J., & Spitze, G. (1994). Housework in Marital and Nonmarital Households. American Sociological Review, 59, 327-347.

Raley, S., & Bianchi, S. (2006) Sons, Daughters, and Family Processes: Does Gender of Children Matter? Annual Review of Sociology, 32: 401-421.

 

Anita E. Kelly, Ph.D., is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame. She is author of The Clever Student and The Psychology of Secrets.

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