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Americans No Longer Prefer Sons to Daughters

“There’s been a much more complete gender revolution for women than for men.”

New research seems to indicate that the majority of would-be American parents may no longer hope to have a boy. Experts suspect this is at least a symptom of some good things, including increased opportunities girls, but may also be a product of a cultural concern with the behavior of both boys and men. Whatever the cause, the numbers, which indicated that couples who have a female child first are less likely to conceive again, seem to indicate the changing of a preference that has been documented for centuries.

“There’s been a much more complete gender revolution for women than for men,” said Dan Clawson, a sociology professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, told the New York Times. “If I’m raising a daughter, I’m raising someone who can challenge conventions, and that’s an attraction. On the other hand, if I’m raising a boy, am I raising someone who’s going to get in trouble, who won’t do well in school and so on?”

Gallup polls have illustrated a bias towards sons in the past. Data from 1941 to 2011 revealed that 40 percent of respondents would still rather have a boy if they could only have one child, compared to 28 percent who said they’d rather have a girl and 32 percent who had no preference. However, this self-reported information only measures hypotheticals. The bias towards sons may be more accurately tracked based couples who keep trying to have kids after having daughters.

The recent published working paper now making headlines tracked gender biases looking at parents actual choices following their first child, using records from the American Community Survey from 2008 to 2013. Despite past data in which parents said they’d be more likely to have a second child after having a girl or to “try for a boy,” this updated assessment indicates that the opposite might be true. Couples are now be less likely to have more kids after having a daughter. Although researchers found a son bias in married men — they’re more likely to stick around if they’re having boys — this effect seems to be shrinking as well.

There are a few caveats to consider before accepting that there’s an emerging daughter bias taking place, including that the paper has not been peer-reviewed. And there are other trends that could cloud data. Families are getting smaller in general and fewer people are having more than one child. Another economic factor inspiring parents to stop having kids after a girl is that young women are more likely to go to college. The paper could be describing economic rather than gender-based decision making.

Still, supplemental data that shows that parents are more prone to picking girls as well, suggesting that this could be a response, on some level, to a society has become more conducive to girls success but has not evolved in the same way for boys. There’s evidence of this in the classroom, where curriculum plays to the girls strength and sitting and paying attention more than boys. The workforce has become increasingly more welcoming of educated women, while male-dominated, blue collar jobs have disappeared.

“The economic trends are pretty clear,” Enrico Moretti, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, told The Times. “Women are more involved in the labor force, and less skilled men are less involved, and women are getting more educated and men are not.”