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The Surprising Role Sons Play In How Long A Marriage Lasts

Kevin N. Murphy

Ask most expecting parents when asked if you have a preference of a boy or girl and they’ll say: “It doesn’t matter as long as they’re healthy.” But, according to The Economist, that isn’t actually the case. It seems there’s an upsetting amount of data suggesting that couples who have a son are more likely to stay together than those who have a daughter. As if your daughters didn’t have it hard enough, now they have to worry about breaking up mom and dad? Well, it’s slightly more complicated than that.

Gordon Dahl of the University of California, San Diego and Enrico Moretti of the University of California, Berkeley noticed this over a decade ago and teamed up to analyzed the U.S.census data to prove it. Not only did they find that men were more prone to proposing to their partners if they discovered they were pregnant with boys, they were less prone to getting divorced if they had boys. Economist Laura Giuliano’s research echoes this — after analyzing a survey of parents of children born in the U.S. between 1998 and 2000 she concluded that parents were more likely to be married after 3 years if they had a son. And here you thought guys were better behaved than lions.

Marriages More Likely To Last If You Have A Boy

Perhaps more interesting, Giuliano found sons to be most effective in saving marriages when the mother was not initially committed to the father. For these “marginal marriages,” having a son reduced the chance of divorce by more than 20 percent, according to her findings. Part of the reason for this might be that men contributed more to childcare when they had sons, and such cooperation can lead to better sex and relationships overall. On the unfortunate flip side, Giuliano also noticed that many mothers surveyed thought parents should remain married even if they didn’t get along. That’s to say, these sons might be saving marriages that shouldn’t necessarily be saved (unless you think a lasting marriage is more important than a healthy one).

Lest this information kill your faith in humanity, experts have proposed some altruistic explanations. Marriage and family therapist Vienna Pharaon suspects it has to do with what she calls the “mini-me phenomenon,” where parents seek to create someone who’s a better version of themselves. But if dads have a greater likelihood of connecting with sons when they see themselves in them, and have a higher probability of sticking around as a result, arguably the same thing could be said for moms and their daughters. So, maybe the real key to a successful marriage is to have one of each and, if you don’t already … better get back to work.

[H/T] The Economist