October 3, 2003


Oh, No: It's a Girl! Do daughters cause divorce? (Steven E. Landsburg, everyday economics, Slate, 10/2/03)

If you want to stay married, three of the most ominous words you'll ever hear are "It's a girl." All over the world, boys hold marriages together, and girls break them up.

In the United States, the parents of a girl are nearly 5 percent more likely to divorce than the parents of a boy. The more daughters, the bigger the effect: The parents of three girls are almost 10 percent more likely to divorce than the parents of three boys. In Mexico and Colombia the gap is wider; in Kenya it's wider still. In Vietnam, it's huge: Parents of a girl are 25 percent more likely to divorce than parents of a boy. . . .

Dahl and Moretti make the extremely helpful observation that all theories fall into one of two categories: Either sons improve the quality of married life (say by being more available for an evening game of catch) or sons exacerbate the pain of divorce (say by falling apart emotionally when the father leaves). Theories of the first sort suggest that a boy child is a blessing; theories of the second sort suggest that the same boy child is a curse—or at least has the potential to become a curse if the marriage starts to crumble. . . .

Of course we all know the answer in China, with its ongoing history of female infanticide. But what about the United States? Dahl and Moretti offer several reasons to believe that American parents also have a strong preference—though not as strong as the Chinese preference—for boys over girls. . . .

One of Dahl and Moretti's most striking bits of evidence comes from shotgun marriages. Take a typical unmarried couple who are expecting a child and have an ultrasound, which more often than not reveals the child's sex. It turns out that such couples are more likely to get married if the child is a boy. Apparently, for unmarried fathers, the prospect of living with a wife and a son is more alluring than the prospect of living with a wife and a daughter. . . .

That seems to answer one question: Boys preserve marriages by making marriages better, not by making divorces worse. But it also raises a new question: What's so great about a boy? Why do parents prefer boys to girls?

It's not always easy being a conservative. I would much prefer that human beings were prefectable, that good intentions always carred the day, that through careful planning by a caring government life's little bumps could be smoothed out for us. My kids wish the world was made out of Jello. They've learned to live with their dissappointment, and so have I.

Every once in a while, though, conservatives are rewarded with a story like this that confirms all our prejudices and misanthopy, and acts as a brick wall into which the left can run headlong. First, once again we see that people are scum. Second, this settles a question discussed here before: if learning a baby's sex by sonogram effects whether the parents marry, then it must also effect whether the child is aborted. Although the effect in the US is probably less than most other places, it now seems certain that girls are being aborted because they are girls. Third, along with the story posted by OJ below about Italy offering to pay for new babies (who we should expect to be disproportionately male), this story shows that people do respond to incentives, even on questions as personal as having children. The left, you will remember, has denied this (at least as far as welfare is concerned) for the last four generations of poor bastards and as recently as a few years ago when the Republicans forced through welfare reform.

Finally, we see the utter bankruptcy of presenting "choice" as pro-woman. Freedom of abortion allows men or culture or economics to pressure women to abort girls. The religious position protects women.

Posted by David Cohen at October 3, 2003 10:42 PM

Oh, Jeebus..

The Feminazis are going to go berserk over that one!

And, in Slate, no less.

Posted by: John J. Coupal at October 3, 2003 11:47 PM

Religion sort of does a bad job of protecting poor women who die of the complications of childbirth, but, hey, keep dreamin'. Uh, what's your solution by the way? Prayer? Remember: some of us don't find prayer or Santa Claus to be reasonable solutions....

Posted by: Philip Shropshire at October 3, 2003 11:49 PM


Ban divorce.

Posted by: oj at October 4, 2003 5:20 AM

Good post, David, but I think the conclusion should be that religion protects children or the weaker parties (including some men) rather than women per se.

The fact that men generally leave the home physically doesn't necessarily mean they wanted to. I remember seeing a study that asserted women instigated most divorces (and were more likely to regret it later). Many men, often the better ones, accept the "tender years" theory than, all things being equal, young children need their mothers most. So they leave or are ordered out. I don't think most family law lawyers would point to one sex over the other as the general cause. In modern North America, both sexes are well-equipped to inflict exquisite, selfish torture on the other and make cohabitation impossible or even dangerous.

It may be some men feel emotionally closer to their sons(although many others dote on their daughters), but it may also be that many women feel their sons need fathers more than their daughters and work harder to keep and involve them.

Anyway, while generalizations about family law can be dicey, people are indeed scum and there is no doubt both boys and girls usually benefit from religious parents (there are exceptions, of course).


Divorce is a licence to re-marry, not permission to separate. A lot of work on social, moral and religious attitudes would have to come first. The law can't make people reverant about marriage or, more importantly, their own marriages.

Posted by: Peter B at October 4, 2003 6:49 AM


You find abortion to be a reasonable solution to the epidemic of women dying from childbirth.

I find abortion to be a reasonable solution to the epidemic of people like you. And I mean this in a completely non-religious, clinical, rational sense.

Posted by: at October 4, 2003 7:45 AM

OJ might be right about their being a sex preference for abortions.

Or he might not.

In order to know, any of several facts, troublesome things that they are, would be helpful:

1. What is the sex ratio of abortions? Easy to say, possibly hard to get.

2. When do they happen? If before a certain point, a sonogram won't tell you anything about the sex of the fetus.

3. How many women get sonograms before abortions?

Absent any such information, it is impossible to draw anything like a conclusion.

It is also interesting to note that in stating "...the religious position protects women." he is echoing such moral guiding lights as the Taliban and Wahabbism.

I'll bet there are plenty of women who would forcibly decline that sort of protection.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 4, 2003 8:02 AM

Philip - Women die from abortion too.

Posted by: pj at October 4, 2003 8:30 AM

Yes, Jeff, the modern American Christian and Jewish communities are just a prayer or two away from being swept up by the Wahabbist tide. Religion is just one big mindless slippery slope, isn't it.

Posted by: Peter B at October 4, 2003 9:32 AM


My wife actually thinks getting a 3-D Sonogram, coupled with a 48-hour waiting period, should be a required prerequisite to any abortion.

Posted by: John Resnick at October 4, 2003 10:10 AM

Ooops. Trying LINK again.

Posted by: John Resnick at October 4, 2003 10:25 AM

Actually John, I think a reasonable waiting period of say, nine months, is preferable.

Posted by: RDB at October 4, 2003 11:01 AM

How about you decide whether to have the baby prior to getting pregnant?

Posted by: oj at October 4, 2003 2:41 PM

Peter B:

I never said that.

But when the less theocratically inclined point out the seeming oppression involved in burkhas, restriction to the home absent a male relative, female circumcision, etc, their response is always:

The religious position protects women.

Without any regard to how much protecting women actually desire.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 4, 2003 3:51 PM


Who? When? Where? This is a post about divorce and sex-selection in America. What have burkhas and female circumcision got to do with it? And who exactly is giving you that response to that question? C'mon, Jeff, a few facts here, please.

Posted by: Peter B at October 4, 2003 6:01 PM


Is female circumcision an Islamic practice? I thought it was relatively restricted to Africa?

And from what I've read women would like greater political rights but don't generally object to the burqa.

Posted by: oj at October 4, 2003 6:11 PM


It does appear that female circumcision is African, not Islamic in origins and not practiced much outside Africa:


Posted by: oj at October 4, 2003 6:58 PM

Jeff: Are you under the impression that they're wrong (leaving female circumscision to one side)?

Peter: Good points. I hereby so amend and extend my remarks.

Philip: Non sequiter? Do you find that works for you? Nevertheless: 1. There are a few subtle doctrinal differences between Judaism and the Church of Jesus Christ, Scientist, that you might want to explore. 2. Feel free to push your forced abortions for poor women idea. 3. Your inability to distinguish G-d from Santa Claus is typically American.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 4, 2003 7:30 PM

Female circumcision started in Africa (or is at least an African cultural phenomenon) but has been appropriated by tribes that have been Islamicized (in Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, etc.). I have heard Muslims from Pakistan and India (men only, of course) defend it. But since they cannot perform it here in the US, they are restricted to complaints only.

The oppression of women, the explotation of women, the dismissal of women - whatever - is not really a religious issue. It is a cultural one, which then gets appropriated into religion, primarily Islam, but also Hinduism (suttee?) and others. Polygamy is another issue where religion is used as cover for a cultural issue.

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 5, 2003 12:31 AM

Boy, some of you have missed my point entire, being, to reiterate: David's tag line was "The religious position protects women." Which is offputting in two ways.

The first and most prominent is that is precisely the same formulation Mullahs use to justify their impositions upon women.

The second is the inherent assumption that women, the poor, defenseless dears, don't have the "necessaries" to protect themselves.

Whether many or most women prefer the burkah is irrelevant. For those who don't, the religious position is going to impose its protection upon them, too.

Similarly for reproductive choice--the religious position intends to protect women zealously undesirous of the favor.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 5, 2003 7:58 AM

Perhaps, but the children seem desirous of life, don't they? I know I am.

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 5, 2003 8:09 AM


On the contrary, it is you that is being patronizing of women. Every time we debate these issues, you assert womens' freedom of choice as the sole, governing principle, suggesting that they would be living in a state of oppression unless your views prevail. Would you defend a man's freedom of choice to kill his child, walk away from his family, have sex with whomever he pleases or dress however he felt like wherever?

Doesn't quite have the same "Let Freedom Ring" feel to it, does it?

Posted by: Peter B at October 5, 2003 9:07 AM


You have caricatured my position.

A woman should be sovereign over her body. It's a freedom thing.

That absolutely means that some women will make decisions that you, or I, will find reprehensible.

Making the state sovereign is a tyranny thing.

The decision will get made somewhere. Your position is, apparently, that the state makes a one-size fits all decision for all women and all circumstances. That you don't find that tyrannical, I find puzzling.

Besides, as a lawyer, I figured you to have an instinctive appreciation of "possession is 9/10 of the law."

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 5, 2003 9:26 PM

"A woman should be sovereign over her body. It's a freedom thing"

1970's cant. After all our debates, I hope I wouldn't patronize you by saying something like: "Society has a right to protect itself." What does it mean in practice? Apply it to the issues.

Posted by: Peter B at October 5, 2003 10:07 PM

Jeff --

It's hard for me not to believe that your ethics here, as with all ethical systems based upon reason alone, are situational. My guess is that, were we having this discussion in 1972 (by mail, I guess) you wouldn't be so quick to support the right of woman, without appeal to the state or input from the father, to kill their unborn children.

Now, flexibility is both a strength and a weakness of reason-based systems, just as inflexibility is both a weakness and a strength of a morality based on the immutable word of G-d. Religious morality does change, over a long period of time (we no longer keep slaves, even under the biblical system, or consider it a sin not to leave half our fields fallow) but not quickly or easily. A reason-based ethical system, on the other hand, changes too easily for reasons of fashion or to accomodate a short-term problem that's mistaken for a long-term problem.

Here, though, because we're dealing with life and death, I prefer inflexibility.

But, in this particular circumstance, you're ignoring another issue. The Taliban and the Wahhabis are clearly right that their system protects women from many of the ills of western society. The burqa, inability to drive, cloistering; these all do reduce fornication, bastardy, abandonment, etc. It's not my cup of tea, frankly, but is it impossible that women of that society would voluntarily agree to these rules? They say they would, but are they telling the truth? I don't know and you don't know. The problem is that the fundamentalists don't know, either.

This is why the important rights are the process rights. The right to speak and to petition. The right to bear arms. The right to be secure in our houses, persons and effects. The right to vote. If a society, having secured these rights for women, choose fundamentalism, what argument do we have with that (I'm assuming, of course, that it is possible to have a fundamentalist Islamic society that is not a homicidal death cult)? That's why it would have been better for the drafters of our Constitution to have secured these process rights to the people, rather than spilling so much ink securing the right to abortion.

Oh ... wait a minute.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 5, 2003 11:50 PM


If I may add to David's super post, there is another aspect to your approach that bears reflection. On issues like this and gay marriage, for example, you seem to need to convince yourself with growing passion that you are dealing with obvious and gross denials of fundamental rights that any right thinking person would see if they weren't blinded by some religious hocus-pocus. Even though gay marriage as a serious ides only popped up in the West about twenty years ago and was unthinkable elsewhere throughout history, you see it as akin to slavery or torture, which allows you to brush aside serious and, if I may say, quite rational objections and concerns. Indeed, you are so wrapped up in the god of individual, material freedom, you appear to even brush aside issues like whether this will lead society down the path to extinction as secondary to making gays happy. It is hard not to conclude you are beholden to some construct that leads you to predicatble conclusions rather rotely.

This is one effect of adhering too closely to a Durant-like "the past is bad, the future is good" view of history. When you come to believe this automatically, as many progressives do, you tend not to notice the death all around you, or worry about the consequences of social change, because you have convinced yourself it will be better than the past by definition.

Posted by: Peter B at October 6, 2003 6:57 AM


In as much as I was a High School junior at the time, my opinion in 1972 might have been of suspect worth. But it is no different now than it was then. The father's physical investment in the pregnancy is exactly zero, which is about how big a vote he should get in the decision.

If, in this case, you believe in inflexibility, that is fine. Live your life that way, and choose to share your life with those who share that point of view. As things stand, no one is going to force you or your wife to make a decision against your moral precepts.

I didn't say that Islamic "protections" of women had no positives, nor that your assertion that the religious position protects women has no positives. Rather, both use the same reasoning. The question isn't whether there aren't advantages.

Rather, the question is what about those who decline religion's protection--an issue that goes to the heart of religious freedom. For Islamic countries, this isn't an issue, because there is no religious freedom.

For the West, it is. After all, one of the things that makes Western society so dynamic is the freedom from from, or to choose one's, theocratic oppression. To the extent the religious position is available to those who choose it, and not imposed on those who don't, then it is consistent with freedom of religion. To the extent it is imposed, it isn't.

And I think Roe v. Wade asserted a right to privacy previously establised in Griswold. Clearly, some here think the Constitution contains no such right. Others think that the Constitution exists to implement the Declaration, and that individual freedom and limited government is impossible without privacy. If you don't wish the the state to make your reproductive decisions for you (as it was doing pre-Griswold) than you are clearly insisting on some degree of privacy. Based on what?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 6, 2003 9:38 AM


My position regarding reproductive choice is more of recognizing that someone, or something is going to make a decision. In my view, giving that decision--whatever it may be--to the state, at the behest of a particular religious viewpoint--since not all sects agree, then any state imposed decision favors one or several over the others--is a step away from freedom and towards tyranny.

Which is different entirely from my argument regarding gay marriage. Until relatively recently, there was widespread agreement that homosexuality represented a choice. As such, one could assign a moral value to it. Over the last fifty or so years, however, the arrow of evidence points in precisely one direction: sexual orientation is no more a matter of choice than is hair color or Down's syndrome.

If this is true--and it would be a very brave position indeed to deny the possibility--then that requires at least rethinking the inherent, as opposed to contextual, immorality of homosexuality. The morality of heterosexuality is completely tied to context regardless of religious belief. If homosexuality is no more open to choice then heterosexuality, then how do you justify applying a different moral standard?

I see it as a serious moral dilemma that articles such as this indicate has been completely ignored, or dealt with exclusively through denial. That's OJ's (and this articles position). The heck with evidence to the contrary, it is a choice.

Well, you know, that might be wrong. With respect to material questions, relgious belief has been known to be wrong before.

Further, all the assertions I have seen regarding the damage to the institution of marriage are utterly unfounded. As in this article, it is all what and no why. You do exactly the same thing.

I see this as a moral question in the same way that slavery, torture, and institutional misogyny were also moral questions. That doesn't mean the answer is going to be the same, but that is no excuse for not asking it.

You need to read more Durant. His position on religion's efficacy is precisely the same as David's. Further, he does plenty of comparison of modernity (ca 1930s) with the past. Modernity almost never comes out of that unbloodied.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 6, 2003 10:27 AM

I take your point about the Durants. I may have maligned them unfairly. But, have a heart, regulars on Brothersjudd would spend every waking moment struggling with huge tomes if we didn't take shortcuts at times.

Posted by: Peter B at October 6, 2003 1:14 PM

Jeff -- On both homosexual marriage and abortion, simply convince more than half the country of your position and you're home free. Forcing your position over the objection of more than half the country is oppression.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 6, 2003 1:59 PM


I have two interests at this point:

Finding out if there is any why to the what. You once provided the only coherent reason I have heard: increasing the married population will inevitably increase the load on divorce courts. But that is a sound reason for barring marriage to serial divorcers of any stripe. Absent that, all I have read so far qualifies as groundless hysteria mongering.

The second is posing what I believe to be a true moral dilemma that can't be ruled out. OJ faces it with denial, everyone else with silence.

Your definition of oppression is interesting. Allowing gay marriage forces no one to partake in one--the majority of the American public that finds gay marriage repugnant can act on that by refraining from committing to one. Their freedom to choose heterosexual marriage is completely unhindered. Granted, they wouldn't be able to stop others from exercising their freedom, but that raises the question of who is oppressing whom.

And it would also prevent distributing marriage spoils based on one's innate orientation that exists regardless of society's disapproval.

This issue seems worthy of greater consideration than just hiding behind denial and poll numbers.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 6, 2003 3:48 PM