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O Sister, Where Art Thou? The Role of Son Preference and Sex Choice: Evidence from Immigrants to Canada


  • Douglas Almond
  • Lena Edlund
  • Kevin Milligan


Sex ratios at birth are above the biologically normal level in a number of Asian countries, notably India and China. Standard explanations include poverty and a cultural emphasis on male offspring. We study Asian immigrants to Canada using Census data, focussing on sex ratios across generations and religious groups. We find sex ratios to be normal at first parity, but rising with parity if there were no previous son. Since these immigrants are neither poor nor live in a society tolerant of sex discrimination/sex selection, our findings are more consistent with a preference for sons per se (and not for sons as a means to, e.g., old age support). Additionally, we uncover strong differences by religious affiliation that align with historical differences in doctrine concerning infanticide. Comparing across generations of Asian immigrants, we find fertility responds strongly to the sex composition of older children for first generation families. For the second generation, expression of son preference through the fertility channel is muted whereas sex selection seems to persist.

Suggested Citation

  • Douglas Almond & Lena Edlund & Kevin Milligan, 2009. "O Sister, Where Art Thou? The Role of Son Preference and Sex Choice: Evidence from Immigrants to Canada," NBER Working Papers 15391, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15391
    Note: CH

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Aydemir, Abdurrahman & Sweetman, Arthur, 2006. "First and Second Generation Immigrant Educational Attainment and Labor Market Outcomes: A Comparison of the United States and Canada," IZA Discussion Papers 2298, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    2. Francine Blau & Lawrence Kahn & Albert Liu & Kerry Papps, 2013. "The transmission of women’s fertility, human capital, and work orientation across immigrant generations," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 26(2), pages 405-435, April.
    3. Gordon B. Dahl & Enrico Moretti, 2008. "The Demand for Sons," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 75(4), pages 1085-1120.
    4. Lena Edlund & Chulhee Lee, 2013. "Son Preference, Sex Selection and Economic Development: The Case of South Korea," NBER Working Papers 18679, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Das Gupta, Monica & Chung, Woojin & Shuzhuo, Li, 2009. "Is there an incipient turnaround in Asia's"missing girls"phenomenon ?," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4846, The World Bank.
    6. Jason Abrevaya, 2009. "Are There Missing Girls in the United States? Evidence from Birth Data," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 1(2), pages 1-34, April.
    7. Woojin Chung & Monica Das Gupta, 2007. "The Decline of Son Preference in South Korea: The Roles of Development and Public Policy," Population and Development Review, The Population Council, Inc., vol. 33(4), pages 757-783.
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    Cited by:

    1. Zimmermann, Laura V, 2012. "It's a Boy! Women and Non-Monetary Benefits from a Son in India," IZA Discussion Papers 6847, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    2. Sweetman, A. & van Ours, J.C., 2014. "Immigration : What About the Children and Grandchildren?," Discussion Paper 2014-009, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
    3. Bejenariu, Simona & Mitrut, Andreea, 2012. "Austerity Measures and Infant Health. Lessons from an Unexpected Wage Cut Policy," Working Paper Series 2012:4, Uppsala University, Department of Economics, revised 10 Oct 2013.
    4. Ciro Avitabile, 2012. "Spillover Effects in Healthcare Programs: Evidence on Social Norms and Information Sharing," IDB Publications (Working Papers) 4201, Inter-American Development Bank.
    5. Almudena Sevilla-Sanz & Delia Furtado and Miriam Marcen, 2010. "Does Culture Affect Divorce Decisions? Evidence from European Immigrants in the US," Economics Series Working Papers 495, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
    6. Esther Duflo, 2012. "Women Empowerment and Economic Development," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 50(4), pages 1051-1079, December.
    7. Tatiana Damjanovic & Geethanjali Selvaretnam, 2015. "Economic Growth and Evolution of Gender Equality," Working Papers 2015_20, Business School - Economics, University of Glasgow.
    8. Francisco J. Beltrán Tapia & Domingo Gallego, 2015. "Where are the missing girls? Gender discrimination in mid-19th century Spain," Working Papers 23, Department of Economic and Social History at the University of Cambridge.
    9. Akee, Randall K. Q. & Feir, Donna, 2016. "Excess Mortality, Institutionalization and Homelessness Among Status Indians in Canada," IZA Discussion Papers 10416, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    10. S. Anukriti, 2013. "The Fertility-Sex Ratio Tradeoff: Unintended Consequences of Financial Incentives," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 827, Boston College Department of Economics.
    11. Anukriti, S & Kumler, Todd J., 2014. "Tariffs, Social Status, and Gender in India," IZA Discussion Papers 7969, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    12. Pulver, Ariel & Ramraj, Chantel & Ray, Joel G. & O'Campo, Patricia & Urquia, Marcelo L., 2016. "A scoping review of female disadvantage in health care use among very young children of immigrant families," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 152(C), pages 50-60.
    13. Delia Furtado & Miriam Marcén & Almudena Sevilla, 2013. "Does Culture Affect Divorce? Evidence From European Immigrants in the United States," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 50(3), pages 1013-1038, June.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • F22 - International Economics - - International Factor Movements and International Business - - - International Migration
    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth
    • J61 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Geographic Labor Mobility; Immigrant Workers
    • Z12 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Religion

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