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

Douglas Almond, Lena Edlund, Kevin Milligan

NBER Working Paper No. 15391
Issued in October 2009, Revised in December 2011
NBER Program(s):Children

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.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w15391

Published: Son Preference and the Persistence of Culture: Evidence from South and East Asian Immigrants to Canada (joint with Douglas Almond and Kevin Milligan). Population and Development Review , March 2013, pp. 75-95.

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