The Economix blog in the New York Times recently had a post showing that Americans say they would prefer a boy to a girl if they could have only one child. This preference is just about as strong as it was 70 years ago, despite great changes in other attitudes about gender. The latest survey (2011) finds 40% saying they'd prefer a boy, 28% saying a girl (the rest saying it didn't matter or they weren't sure). Back in 1947, it was 40% and 25%. Another surprising thing: the preference for a boy was stronger among young people, who in other ways have more egalitarian attitudes towards gender.
In thinking about this, it occurred to me that older people are more likely to have had children and that experience could affect preferences. A 2008 survey by the Pew Research Center asked about the sex of one's children and hypothetical preference. There's a strong relationship: people with no children prefer a boy by 42%-24%; among people whose children are all sons it rises to 53%-9%, but people whose children are all daughters prefer a girl by 54%-13%. People with both sons and daughters have some preference for a boy, but it's pretty small (27%-22%).
To some extent, people who have children may think about the actual boys and/or girls they have, who in most cases they are pretty happy with. Since about half of all children are girls, they have more balanced preferences (and more say that it doesn't matter) than childless people, for whom the question is completely hypothetical. Still, there's some preference for boys, even among people who've had both boys and girls. My next post will look further at this.