Offspring Sex Preference in Frontier America

Journal of Interdisciplinary History (Impact Factor: 0.26). 02/2012; 42(4):519-41. DOI: 10.1162/JINH_a_00303
Source: PubMed


Analysis of the fertility histories of women born between 1850 and 1900, as given in the Utah Population Database (UPDB), reveals the effect of the number, as well as the sex composition, of previous children on birth-stopping and birth-spacing decisions. Specifically, agricultural and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) households—two sub-populations that might have placed different values on male and female children for economic, social, and/or cultural reasons—showed a distinct preference for male children, as expressed by birth stopping after the birth of a male child and shorter birth intervals in higher-parity births when most previous children were female. Remarkably, women in both the early "natural fertility" and the later contraceptive eras used spacing behavior to achieve a desired sex mix. Although the LDS population had relatively high fertility rates, it had the same preferences for male children as the non-LDS population did. Farmers, who presumably had a need for family labor, were more interested in the quantity than in the sex mix of their children.

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    ABSTRACT: In the past, parents' sex preferences for their children have proved difficult to verify. This study used John Knodel's German village genealogies of couples married between 1815 and 1899 to investigate sex preferences for children during the fertility transition. Event history analyses of couples' propensity to progress to a fifth parity was used to test whether the probability of having additional children was influenced by the sex composition of surviving children. It appears that son preference influenced reproductive behaviour: couples having only girls experienced significantly higher transition rates than those having only boys or a mixed sibset. However, couples who married after about 1870 began to exhibit fertility behaviour consistent with the choice to have at least one surviving boy and girl. This result represents a surprisingly early move towards the symmetrical sex preference typical of modern European populations.
    No preview · Article · Mar 2015 · Population Studies