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The Demand for Sons or the Demand for Fathers? Understanding the Effects of Child Gender on Divorce Rates

Author

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  • Laura Giuliano

    () (Department of Economics, University of Miami)

Abstract

Using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, this paper examines why married parents of boys are less likely than parents of girls to become separated or divorced. Two prominent theories attribute differential divorce rates to: (1) the fathers’ preferences for sons; or (2) the differential needs of boys and girls. The results suggest both theories have merit. First, fathers of newborn sons report greater marital happiness, but mothers do not. This supports the “demand for sons” hypothesis. Second, analysis of divorce rates provides evidence for both causal theories. In particular, I find that when new mothers report having only marginally happy marriages, sons sharply reduce three-year divorce rates. Further analysis of these marginal marriages shows that mothers of sons stay married partly because they believe marital stability is important for their sons’ welfare. This supports the differential needs hypothesis. But these mothers also stay married partly because of increases in their marital surplus—apparently due to the father’s preference for sons. Mothers of sons report better marital relationships after one year, hold more positive views of their husbands as fathers, and receive more of the fathers’ help watching the child. These three factors, in turn, significantly reduce the likelihood of divorce.

Suggested Citation

  • Laura Giuliano, 2007. "The Demand for Sons or the Demand for Fathers? Understanding the Effects of Child Gender on Divorce Rates," Working Papers 0724, University of Miami, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:mia:wpaper:0724
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    File URL: http://moya.bus.miami.edu/~lgiuliano/sons&divorce_oct07.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    7. Jacob, Brian A., 2002. "Where the boys aren't: non-cognitive skills, returns to school and the gender gap in higher education," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 21(6), pages 589-598, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Elisabeth Gugl & Linda Welling, 2012. "Time with sons and daughters," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 10(2), pages 277-298, June.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    divorce; child gender; fathers; sons; daughters;

    JEL classification:

    • J12 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Marriage; Marital Dissolution; Family Structure
    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination

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