Son Preference, Sex Selection and Economic Development


Motivated by high and rising sex ratios in countries such as India and China, we formulate a theoretical framework for analyzing the impact of economic development on parental sex choice when sons are culturally prized and children provide old age support. Two key assumptions drive our model. First, the cultural valuation of children varies not only with gender but also with marital status. In particular, while a married son is preferred to a married daughter, the latter is preferred to an unmarried son. Second, we assume that faced with a shortage of brides, poor parents will have a harder time marrying their sons than rich parents. Our model predicts male sex ratios at low levels of development, where the surplus sons are chosen by the poorest who forego grandchildren for old age support. With development, incomes and the bride price rise, allowing the poorest reproductive children. Consequently, sex ratios fall, and the relationship between parental income and offspring maleness turns positive. We also present corroborative evidence from South Korea, a now developed country which shares with India and China a strong patriarchal culture and a recent past of poverty

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