Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Why do more parents want to have girls than boys?

Mickey Kaus seems incredulous that parents who use baby sex selection services usually prefer girls. He quotes this passage from an article in Elle:

Seventy-one percent of American families who use MicroSort—which is still in clinical trials—want a daughter. ... “The era of wanting a first-born male is gone, not to return,” founder Ronald Ericsson, MD, has said.

What’s behind the modern-day girl fetish? One explanation: Women envision a brighter future for their daughters than they do for their sons. Boys are practically the underdogs these days, having fallen behind girls on nearly every measure of academic achievement, from college attendance to high school graduation rates. ...

“The way society is now—I feel there’s a preference for girls,” says Linda Heithaus, a marine biologist from Hollywood, Florida, who has two sons and is contemplating doing IVF/PGD in the hope of getting a girl. “They can do everything a boy can do, plus you can dress them up. It’s almost like, to fit in, you need to have one.” Girls, in other words, are boys plus. They can play sports and have careers, and you can dress them in pink and take them to tea at the American Girl cafe. What’s not to like?

Others link the yearning to women’s belief that they’ll have a richer lifelong relationship with a daughter than a son. ...
Kaus responds: 
Maybe I'm out of it, but I was unaware that parents now want girls, not boys. ... Girls are boys plus? That's one way to look at it. I don't quite believe this trend (though some of my Westside yuppie friends confirm it).
Well, yes, this has been going on for a while. Ten years ago, the New York Times magazine reported, in a cover story called "Getting the Girl":
Americans, unlike much of the rest of the world, do not prefer boys. Of the first 111 Microsort attempts, 83 were for females and 28 were for males. True, the process began as a way to select for girls, and true, because it is better at selecting girls it is more likely to attract couples who want them. But there is something else going on as well, something Shettles and Ericsson learned a long time ago.

''More want girls,'' Shettles says. ''Definitely we heard more from women who had many boys and wanted a girl.''

Ericsson, too. ''We see more requests for girls,'' he says. At some Ericsson clinics, the ratio is as high as 2 to 1, despite Ericsson's own statistics showing a higher success rate for boys. It is, he says, a gap that has been growing since he first introduced his method 25 years ago.

In a lopsided, counterintuitive way, he insists, this is a streak of feminism, although it hardly appears that way at first, what with all the talk of ponytails, dresses and bows. ...

Also in keeping with [Ericsson's] experience, most [women on a sex selection website] yearn to parent girls. They speak of Barbies and ballet and butterfly barrettes. They also describe the desire to rear strong young women. Some want to recreate their relationships with their own mothers; a few want to do better by their daughters than their mothers did by them. They want their sons to have sisters, so that they learn to respect women. They want their husbands to have little girls. But many of them want a daughter simply because they always thought they would have one. They feel that their little girl is out there, somewhere. Every so often, while their boys are playing, they catch a mind's eye glimpse of her, and wonder where she is.
Back to Kaus -- he adds:
It seems to me men still have a lot of advantages, the lack of a mommy track being only the most obvious. But if true ... it would be an extraordinary example of relative changes in earning power affecting fairly basic and millenia-old socio-cultural preferences with startling rapidity--another victory for Vulgar Marxism ...
I can't quite disagree with Kaus's literal words when he says that men have "a lot of advantages"; after all, you probably could list "a lot" of them if you decided to. But I don't accept the implication that men have most of the advantages. As I've blogged before, men have plenty of disadvantages too. I'd be interested to know which advantages Kaus had in mind that he would have expected to tilt the scales in favor of parents wanting sons.

The only specific example he gives -- that girls are on a "mommy track" -- cuts both ways. You could see that as a downside. But when we're talking about the modern-day United States, where there's no question that it's socially acceptable for women to do any job they want, the option to forgo professional advancement and focus on being a parent seems like an advantage. All other things being equal, it's better to have more rather than fewer choices about how to live your life. Of course, it is possible for the father to do most of the parenting -- but there are still powerful social norms against it. There are no equivalent barriers to women being stay-at-home moms or having high-powered jobs. 

Of course, the parents' preferences aren't just objective calculations about the costs and benefits of being born a girl or a boy. As the Elle and NYT articles point out, a mother might want to have a daughter because she imagines they'd have a stronger relationship or because this conforms to her dream of how her life will end up. But if the parents are thinking about costs and benefits, they might want to have a girl -- who's less likely to be laid off in a recession, go to prison, or fight in a war, and more likely to grow up to earn a bachelor's degree, make more money (at least if she lives in a big city), and live longer.

4 comments:

LemmusLemmus said...

On a less altruistic note, girls, on average, are less trouble. They're less physically aggressive and less into risk-taking.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Barbies, barrettes, pink dresses...thank God I never had to deal with them. As for "less trouble" -- teenage girls???

All the parental input in the article comes from mothers. That's another of today's advantages for women: they make all decisions.

reader_iam said...

I had contemplated commenting on this post, but honestly, I'm in a mild state of shock at the very idea of sleeping with a lime-soaked tampon, for any reason.

Whoa.

Anonymous said...

@Richard Lawrence Cohen You haven't met my brothers, nephews or male cousins. I don't know many socks and blankets they've ruined with their often "nightly emissions". It's disgusting. They've broken every single toy they've gotten, even expensive game consoles. They spit, fart, talk about poop and penises and butts and boobs and snot and semen ALL THE TIME. Even in front of my Mom. They are obsessed with their crotches, constantly grabbing their balls when they walk.

As for teenage girls apparently being a lot of "trouble"? I may have had my hissy fits, but so has every man in my life. Mine are more whiny and emotional, but I don't go around threatening my parents with fists, breaking walls and having raging shouting matches with my father.

The truth of the matter is, boys AND girls have their pros and cons. When you trade one for the other, you get a whole new set of problems in exchange for the old. You sound really bitter and naive to me, especially when reading your last couple statements. I don't know what kind of women you've had to deal with in your life, but you should do some soul-searching and realize what a few women have done to you isn't representative of us all. My Dad was kind of an asshole and a deadbeat, but I'm mature enough to realize not all men are that way.