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The Demand for Sons: Evidence from Divorce, Fertility, and Shotgun Marriage

by Gordon B. Dahl and Enrico Moretti. Reading for week of May 24, 2005.

This paper shows how parental preferences for sons versus daughters affect divorce, child custody, marriage, shotgun marriage when the sex of the child is known before birth, and fertility stopping rules.  We document that parents with girls are significantly more likely to be divorced, that divorced fathers are more likely to have custody of their sons, and that women with only girls are substantially more likely to have never been married.  Perhaps the most striking evidence comes from the analysis of shotgun marriages.  Among those who have an ultrasound test during their pregnancy, mothers carrying a boy are more likely to be married at delivery.  When we turn to fertility, we find that in families with at least two children, the probability of having another child is higher for all-girl families than all-boy families.  This preference for sons seems to be largely driven by fathers, with men reporting they would rather have a boy by more than a two to one margin.  In the final part of the paper, we compare the effects for the U.S. to five developing countries.

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