A stable statistic since 1941: “Americans prefer boys to girls”

Amidst news that families in Asian countries are selecting boys over girls before they are born, Gallup reports that Americans also prefer boys:

Gallup has asked Americans about their preferences for a boy or a girl — using slightly different question wordings over the years — 10 times since 1941. In each instance, the results tilt toward a preference for a boy rather than a girl. The average male child-preference gap across these 10 surveys is 11 percentage points, making this year’s results (a 12-point boy-preference gap) just about average. Gallup found the largest gap in 1947 and 2000 (15 points) and the smallest in a 1990 survey (4 points).

The attitudes of American men drive the overall preference for a boy; in the current poll, conducted June 9-12, men favor a boy over a girl by a 49% to 22% margin. American women do not have a proportionate preference for girls. Instead, women show essentially no preference either way: 31% say they would prefer a boy and 33% would prefer a girl…

The degree to which Americans deliberately attempt to select the gender of their children is unclear. It is significant that 18- to 29-year-old Americans are the most likely of any age group to express a preference for a boy because most babies are born to younger adults. The impact of the differences between men and women in preferences for the sex of their babies is also potentially important. The data from the U.S. suggest that if it were up to mothers to decide the gender of their children, there would be no tilt toward boys. Potential fathers have a clear preference for boys if given a choice, but the precise amount of input males may have into a deliberate gender-selection process is unknown.

This seems to be one of those statistics that is remarkably constant since 1941 even though the relationships between and perceptions of genders has changed. Is this statistic a sign of a lack of progress in the area of gender?

Gallup suggests several traits lead to higher preferences for boys: being male, being younger, having a lower level of education (though income doesn’t matter), and Republican. So why exactly do these traits lead to these preferences? Outside of being younger, one could suggest these traits add up to a “traditionalist” understanding of families where boys are more prized.

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