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

  • Laura Giuliano

    ()

    (Department of Economics, University of Miami)

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.

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File URL: http://moya.bus.miami.edu/~lgiuliano/sons&divorce_oct07.pdf
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Paper provided by University of Miami, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers with number 0724.

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Length: 28 pages
Date of creation: Oct 2007
Date of revision:
Publication status: Forthcoming: Under Review
Handle: RePEc:mia:wpaper:0724
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  1. 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.
  2. Shelly Lundberg, 2005. "Sons, Daughters, and Parental Behaviour," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 21(3), pages 340-356, Autumn.
  3. Kelly Bedard & Olivier Deschênes, 2005. "Sex Preferences, Marital Dissolution, and the Economic Status of Women," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 40(2).
  4. Ananat, Elizabeth O. & Michaels, Guy, 2007. "The Effect of Marital Breakup on the Income Distribution of Women with Children," CEPR Discussion Papers 6228, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  5. Shelly Lundberg & Elaina Rose, 1999. "The Determinants of Specialization within Marriage," Working Papers UWEC-2005-07, University of Washington, Department of Economics.
  6. McElroy, Marjorie B & Horney, Mary Jean, 1981. "Nash-Bargained Household Decisions: Toward a Generalization of the Theory of Demand," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 22(2), pages 333-49, June.
  7. Maria Cancian & Daniel Meyer, 1998. "Who gets custody?," Demography, Springer, vol. 35(2), pages 147-157, May.
  8. Shelly Lundberg & Elaina Rose, 2003. "Child gender and the transition to marriage," Demography, Springer, vol. 40(2), pages 333-349, May.
  9. Shelly Lundberg & Elaina Rose, 2002. "The Effects Of Sons And Daughters On Men'S Labor Supply And Wages," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 84(2), pages 251-268, May.
  10. Lundberg, Shelly & Pollak, Robert A, 1994. "Noncooperative Bargaining Models of Marriage," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(2), pages 132-37, May.
  11. Joseph Price, 2008. "Parent-Child Quality Time: Does Birth Order Matter?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 43(1).
  12. Brian A. Jacob, 2002. "Where the boys aren't: Non-cognitive skills, returns to school and the gender gap in higher education," NBER Working Papers 8964, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Jay Teachman & Paul Schollaert, 1989. "Gender of children and birth timing," Demography, Springer, vol. 26(3), pages 411-423, August.
  14. Lundberg, Shelly, 2005. "The Division of Labor by New Parents: Does Child Gender Matter?," IZA Discussion Papers 1787, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  15. Francine D. Blau & Lawrence M. Kahn, 2000. "Gender Differences in Pay," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 14(4), pages 75-99, Fall.
  16. Shelly Lundberg & Sara McLanahan & Elaina Rose, 2007. "Child gender and father involvement in fragile families," Demography, Springer, vol. 44(1), pages 79-92, February.
  17. Gordon B. Dahl & Enrico Moretti, 2008. "The Demand for Sons," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 75(4), pages 1085-1120.
  18. Gordon B. Dahl & Enrico Moretti, 2004. "The Demand for Sons: Evidence from Divorce, Fertility, and Shotgun Marriage," NBER Working Papers 10281, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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