Are Sons More Preferred Than Daughters?

Artwork: Rachel Levit

Every parent wants a healthy baby, but do parents prefer whether their baby is a son or a daughter?

Gender preference is a hotly debated topic. In most parts of the world, a preference exists for sons over daughters. Worldwide, cultures do tend to value boys more than girls, which affects the overall gender ratio of boys to girls.

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Is There a Gender Ratio Bias Towards Boys?

Yes; there are more boys than girls worldwide. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 106 boys exist for every 100 girls in the United States. This skew toward boys is even higher in some countries such as India (112) and China (115), where boys are more culturally revered.

There are More Boys, Than Girls.

Where are the missing girls?  Three hypotheses exist to explain this worldwide gender bias toward boys:

  1. Inaccurate data: Many countries do not track, nor make publicly available, gender records. However, better data is likely to INCREASE the overall worldwide skew toward boys.
  2. Sex-selective abortion or infanticide: Sadly, in some regions of the world, children are selectively aborted, or killed, based solely on gender. This occurrence highlights the profound need for more equal cultural valuation of girls worldwide, as well as, the need for more reliable, affordable, and readily accessible contraception and gender selection options for women preconception.
  3. Miscarriage bias toward girls: A woman always has a 50:50 chance of conceiving a girl or boy. However some research suggests that miscarriage is more likely for female fetuses. In other words, more girls might be naturally lost during pregnancy, than boys. However the research here is inconclusive, unproven, and very difficult to collect, given that gender is never known for most miscarriages.

Are Sons More Preferred Than Daughters?

Yes; A son bias for gender preference is reported worldwide. In the United States, in every Gallup poll taken since 1941, men have overwhelmingly favored a boy as the gender for their first-child. In one smaller recent poll, when asked anonymously, over 71% of woman expressed the desire for a son as a first child.

Boys are More Preferred Than Girls.

Gender preference bias is also evident in Google searches. Worldwide, “How to Conceive a Baby Boy” is statistically more frequently searched than “How to Conceive a Baby Girl”, by a significantly higher trend volume.

Graph: Google Search Trends for Boy versus Girl Gender Preference

However, some policymakers and researchers argue that this gender preference does not exist, mainly based on incomplete Census data which does not include parents’ expressed preferences before pregnancy.  Census data only includes live births, not whether a parent preferred a son, or daughter.

Chart: Preference for a Boy and Gender Bias, By Country

Soure: WomanStats Project

In almost all parts of the world, there remains a clear preference for sons over daughters, even in the more developed nations such as the United States, Australia, Canada, and Japan. Note: A normal sex ratio is only based on live births, not true gender preference.

Gender bias is expressed in subtle cultural undertones:  A woman with three sons is likely to be told how lucky she is, while a woman with three daughters is more likely to be asked if she will try for a boy.

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Implications for the Gender Selection Debate

Some woman may feel guilty that they desire to have a boy, given the world bias against girls. Some woman may feel it is more politically and ethically acceptable to desire a girl given this worldwide bias.

Indeed, some researchers have suggested that the desire for a girl is more frequently vocalized openly, since woman feel that other woman are more likely to support a female gender preference choice. However, when asked anonymously, a preference for boys remains.

While support among woman and for girls is clearly needed, women wanting to have a boy maybe subjected to stigma and shame when vocalizing their gender preference for a baby boy.

Whether desiring a girl or boy, both are real emotional longings, and support for all gender preferences and women’s choices should be part of the gender selection debate.

Many people feel gender selection is always wrong, given the potential for selective abortion of a particular gender, and given an overall lack of understanding for the profound cultural influence of gender preference worldwide.

Since the vast majority of policymakers are men, little societal pressure exists to change the cultural bias against girls. Indeed, most women’s health programs do not acknowledge the hot-topic of gender preference among parents.  As one female Senator suggested, ‘Equality for women may begin in the womb.’

‘Equality for girls begins in the womb.’

Reducing unwanted pregnancies, and providing gender selection options, could actually reduce selective abortion and female genocide. Supporting women’s rights throughout the world and providing women with choice are key steps toward cultural gender equality for all girls.

Whatever your personal preferences or beliefs, every child deserves to be accepted and loved for who they are, whether a boy or a girl.


Americans Prefer Boys to Girls, Just as They Did in 1941, Gallup Poll

Report of the International Workshop on Skewed Sex Ratios at Birth United Nations FPA (2012)