Singletons

The world of only children

Are Boys More Desirable Than Girls?

Boys are more desirable than girls, or are they?

A friend of mine brags about his daughter, a district attorney, constantly. "Can you imagine," he repeats, "my once shy child who would not speak to adults is in a court room arguing cases in front of a judge and jury and who knows how many spectators?"

The child he refers to is his 29-year-old only child. My friend could care less that his only offspring is female. He bursts with daughter pride, but most fathers want a boy. Boys-lots of them-it seems, make marriages happier, but when men admit to wanting a son, they don't know that.

When I wrote about moms being happiest with one child, I didn't address the gender issue. According to C. Andre Mizell and Lala Carr Stillman, authors of "All My Children: The Consequences of Sibling Group Characteristics on the Marital Happiness of Young Mothers," a study that appeared in the Journal of Family Issues, women who have only boys experience greater marital happiness than mothers who have boys and girls. When the gender makeup of siblings was all girls or a mix of girls and boys in families with three or more children, there was a negative effect on mothers' sense of contentment. And in the mixed sibling groups, mothers "with more sons than daughters enjoy an advantage in marital happiness not shared by those with more daughters than sons."

Earlier studies, particularly two by L.P. Morgan published in the American Journal of Sociology, reported that having boys as opposed to girls reduced the likelihood of divorce significantly. Another study by two economists claims that parents of girls divorce more often. Fellow PT blogger Anita Kelly discusses this study in depth: Why Parents of Girls Divorce More.

Researchers tend to agree that the reduced likelihood of divorce comes, in part, from fathers' more active role in the rearing of their sons. Dads say they want a boy to toss a ball with or a child who will become the super-athletes they weren't. As one dad phrased it, "Having a son is a macho thing." For some men, part of their preference for a male child has to do with carrying on the family name. The desire for sons is particularly perplexing in the United States, given that opportunities absent to women in previous generations now abound-medical and law school students, for example, are 50 percent or more female. Women have become independent and frequently earn more than their male partners do, thus allowing daughters to support their parents if and when they may need financial assistance.

The implication of Women's Preconception Diets and Their Likelihood To Have a Boy or Sexually Promiscuous Parents Really DO Have More Sons is that the desire for male offspring is strong, preferred. Perhaps wanting male children is so socially ingrained, much like the stereotypes associated with only children, that many people believe boys are better than girls. It seems incredible that we still think that way...but then no more amazing and extreme than people believing an only child will be spoiled, bossy, lonely, or maladjusted.

Divided We Stand

The evidence and insinuation that parents prefer boys are plentiful, but I didn't find that. While conducting a study for The Case for the Only Child , I talked with 100 men and women who have one child. I asked them about their preference: "Were you hoping for a boy or a girl?" With few exceptions, women wanted girls and the men wanted boys.

In larger families, it appears to make a difference in mother's contentment when you have a mix of girls and boys verses all boys. But, that doesn't seem to stop parents from trying until they get a baby in the sex of their choice. The mothers I interviewed were more likely to want a second child if their first was male. Moms want daughters with whom they envision a permanent, close connection-one that will be less affected by the arrival of a son-in-law and the push and pull that often ensues when a daughter-in-law (and her family) becomes part of the family mix.

There is no arguing about the strength of a good mother-daughter bond. Even in China, long notorious for infanticide and selective abortion, the decades-long desire for sons is waning. Twenty-nine percent of young people from a wide selection of China's provinces and cities say they would choose to have a daughter for the warmth, comfort and long term support. In spite of the recognition of girls' value in certain regions of China, trafficking in abducted boys thrives.

In most of the rest of the developed world, it seems more likely that the higher divorce rate among parents with daughters or the claimed level of discontent in families with more girls than boys has more to do with the number of children or the quality of the mother-father relationship than it does with the gender of the children.

Own up? Didn't you have a strong preference for a boy...or a girl? Or was it your partner who wanted a son? Or, grandparents who wanted a grandson? And, what if you have or plan to have only one child like my friend with the district attorney daughter?

Copyright by Susan Newman, Ph.D. 2010

Susan Newman, Ph.D., is a social psychologist and author. Her latest book is The Case for the Only Child: Your Essential Guide.

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