Baby Gender Preferences

A large amount of international research is done sitting at the desk and analysing large datasets. Arguably the largest and most widely used dataset concerning low- and middle-income countries is the Demographic and Health Services (DHS) dataset. This dataset is based on repeated cross-sectional questionnaires in many low- and medium-income countries. The emphasis is on reproductive and infant health. Large databases often disappoint, but DHS is producing some gems.

The authors of a recent World Bank report were interested in a possible preference for sons in sub-Saharan Africa.[1] However, the difference in birth ratio of boys and girls seen in China and India was not found in Africa. So they examined reproductive choices in families where the existing children were all girls or boys. They found that people continue to have children to a greater extent when their existing children are girls rather than boys. There still appears to be a strong cultural preference for boys over much of the world, although manifested in a more subtle way in Africa than in Asia; perhaps because people do not have access to ultrasound to determine the sex of the early foetus, or perhaps because they are less reluctant to have large families. The findings show that many people can control their fertility, suggesting, perhaps, that behavioural factors rather than poor access to contraception is the main cause of the slower decline in family size seen in Africa compared to Asia and South America.

— Richard Lilford, Director CLAHRC WM


  1. Milazzo A. Son Preference, Fertility and Family Structure. Evidence from Reproductive Behavior among Nigerian Women. Policy Research Working Paper 6869. Washington, D.C.: World Bank Development Research Group. 2014.

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