October 25, 2003


'It's a boy' is still what parents hope to hear (Marilyn Gardner, 10/08/03, CS Monitor)

For new parents, can there be any more beautiful colors than pink and blue? "It's a girl!" and "It's a boy!" - the announcements ring out joyously to relatives and friends, heralding a new generation and the continuity of a family's lineage.

Yet pink and blue are still not cheered and cherished in equal measure. Despite growing equality for girls and women, Americans continue to want sons over daughters. In a new Gallup Poll, 38 percent of respondents say they would prefer a boy if they could have only one child. Twenty-eight percent would choose a girl. Slightly more than a quarter express no preference. The rest have no opinion.

Among young people, the gap widens. Almost half of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 would prefer a son. Twenty-nine percent want a daughter, while 18 percent say it doesn't matter.

In other words, the generations that think in terms of only having one child do consider maleness important.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 25, 2003 7:29 AM

My wife and I have two girls, ages 5 and 8. I honestly didn't care; however, after the first girl I wanted another girl.

Posted by: pchuck at October 25, 2003 9:17 AM

The portion of those who want a girl or don't care far outweighs those who want a boy.

What was your point again?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 25, 2003 9:21 AM

I'm 26. I want 5 kids and I don't want any of them to be girls. I see my 13 year old step-sister wearing midriffs and thongs sticking out of her jeans. I should want to raise a girl in this society? No thanks. Let some other guy deal with the headaches.

Posted by: Matt C at October 25, 2003 1:52 PM

Jeff - The people who say they don't care are lying.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 25, 2003 5:03 PM


Not all of us.

And, if you think that's true, then why bother to poll anyone about anything ? It's true that some responses are false, consciously or not, but the overall trends do point the way to truth.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at October 25, 2003 5:13 PM

I wanted at least one of each and got two girls and a boy. They were all a joy to me and I would not have wanted to miss out on the boyness of the boy or the girlness of the girls.

Orrin is right about the preference for boys, but that has to be a case of nurture over nature. From a purely reproductive standpoint, the species does not need nearly as many boys as it has.

Incidentally, I picked up a book today called "English Society 1580-1680," and in going through the index, I noted reference to a study (which of course I have not read) which evaluated almanacs in Europe from the 14th-17th centuries and deduced from the herbal receipts a strong desire to limit families.

So while Orrin is right about the preference for boys, his larger opinions about religion and demographics have always seemed shaky, and this study would back that up.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 25, 2003 8:36 PM


Thanks for that. Next time I see poll results, I shall turn to you for the truth.

And suggest pollsters save themselves a lot of bother and expense by doing the same.

BTW: I hoped to have one of each, but would have preferred two girls to two boys.

But that is only I didn't think to check with you first.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 25, 2003 9:54 PM

One-child and (by choice) childless couples, esp. since they are often well educated in solidly within the middle class--and so can materially provide in a nurturing way--are the deathknell of a civilization if practiced broadly enough.

Look at Europe.

"It's the duty of every able-bodied woman to bear at least four children."--Theodore Roosevelt

That may be the simple, reductionist reason bona fide religious cultures will outlast secular ones: only one's having the children.

Posted by: Brent at October 26, 2003 4:05 AM


The point is that, regardless of how they feel after the birth, more parents would choose a boy for the first. Until recently, that was a quirk that didn't matter, both because nobody could act on it and because people had more kids. Now it could become an ominous threat and promote abortion---more death in the name of choice.

Now, what was your point again?

Posted by: Peter B at October 26, 2003 8:41 AM


My point is that there is nothing to see here; move along.

Unlike other societies, we have nothing like a bride price. But even if a couple generations of sex selection led to an excess of males, our wonderful market economy would kick into action, making girls more valuable.

Like I said, nothing to see here.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 26, 2003 1:08 PM

"But even if a couple of generations of sex selection..."

Man, do you just roll these thoughts off your scientific tongue, or do you reflect on what you are saying? That's pure eugenics.

Posted by: Peter B at October 26, 2003 7:14 PM

Peter, what makes you think sex selection hasn't been practiced for a long time? The Greeks did it, and the Chinese and many others.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 26, 2003 11:58 PM


So what? They practiced slavery too and kept their women completely subservient.

Posted by: Peter B at October 27, 2003 4:56 AM


I was only assuming the hypothetical--that even if it did happen, despite there being practically no reason to expect it to (pre-conception sex selection means have been available for quite some time, and scarcely used)--the nature of our society makes the resulting sex-ratio disturbance self correcting.

Unless, of course, you have absolutely no faith in market economics.

For a conservative, that would be a very odd position to take.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 27, 2003 7:38 AM

It is innate to humans to hope for the gender
that is largely self-sufficient (from a natural
history perspective) by the age of say 12.

Posted by: J.H. at October 27, 2003 9:19 AM

Jeff: You're confusing market economics with behavior that is outside of market forces, unless you're proposing that children will be sold soon. I guess support for abortion leads necessarily to that position, but to me, it seems a nonsequitur. Market economics only matters when there's a system of exchange in place; I don't see one here.

For reference: All I ever wanted was healthy kids, and I would've been happy if the first was a girl, but I was hoping, a little bit, for a boy.

Posted by: Chris at October 27, 2003 10:01 AM


Assume a society where there were 150 men per 100 women. In that kind of society, virtually any woman would be able to secure for herself a very advantageous match.

And be guaranteed to reproduce.

A son, on the other hand, might never get a match, and, therefore, never reproduce.

In a market economy, where people are free to respond to incentives--there are others besides money--I can't see how those sorts of incentives would go unnoticed.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 27, 2003 8:59 PM


Your logic is flawless, assuming one equates people with cattle.

Posted by: Peter B at October 28, 2003 4:40 AM


I'm equating people with people.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 28, 2003 8:54 PM