Do Baby Girls Cause Divorce? (Ep. 135)
Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast is called “Do Baby Girls Cause Divorce?” (You can subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript below; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)
This episode was inspired by a question from a reader named John Dolan-Heitlinger, who wrote the following:
My wife has observed that in marriages where there is a son there is less chance of the husband leaving the marriage.
I wonder if that is true.
Thanks for your consideration.
Mr. Dolan-Heitlinger asks, and we deliver. And his wife, as it turns out, is right. In a paper called “The Demand for Sons,” the economists Enrico Moretti and Gordon B. Dahl examined differences in marital rates based on whether a first-born child is a son or daughter. Here are some of their findings:
- Couples who conceive a child out of wedlock and find out that it will be a boy are more likely to marry before the birth of their baby.
- Parents who have first-born girls are significantly more likely to be divorced.
- Fathers are significantly less likely to be living with their children if they have daughters versus sons.
- In any given year, roughly 52,000 first-born daughters younger than 12 years (and all their siblings) would have had a resident father if they had been boys.
- Divorced fathers are much more likely to obtain custody of sons compared to daughters.
“Son preference” is not new, of course (and we’ve dealt with a different version before on this show). Gallup has been polling on this question since 1941, and the results have barely budged. In 2011, 40 percent preferred sons and 28 percent daughters; the rest stated no preference or opinion. (In 1941 the margin was 38 percent to 24 percent.)
In this podcast, Stephen Dubner talks with Enrico Moretti about the research itself and the broader economic implications of so many girls living without their dads.
MORETTI: For children and families with absentee fathers due to a first-born daughter, family income is reduced by about 50 percent and poverty rates are increased by about 30 percent. So these are economically important effects.
Thanks again to John Dolan-Heitlinger for the question that sparked this discussion. Please keep your good questions coming!