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Does child gender affect marital status? Evidence from Australia


Pooling microdata from five Australian censuses, I explore the relationship between child gender and parents’ marital status. By contrast with the USA, I find no evidence that the gender of the first child has a significant impact on the decision to marry or divorce. However, among two-child families, parents with two children of the same sex are 1.7 percentage points less likely to be married than parents with a boy and a girl. This finding is unlikely to be consistent with theories of preference for sons over daughters, differential costs, role models, or complementary costs but is consistent with a theory of mixed-gender preference.

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  1. 1.

    I am grateful to Edith Gray for drawing this study to my attention.

  2. 2.

    Weston et al. (2004) also found large gaps in boy/girl preferences among respondents aged 20–29 (men favored boys by 30 to 22%, women favored girls by 19 to 12%) and among respondents whose highest level of education was year 12 or less (men favored boys by 31 to 25%, women favored girls by 18 to 15%).

  3. 3.

    In the USA, Olson (1983) estimated that for one-child families, a girl costs around US$900 each year more to raise up to the age of 18 than a boy. I have been unable to obtain any published evidence on the cost difference of raising boys and girls in Australia. However, Paul Henman, an Australian social researcher at the University of Queensland who specializes in estimating the cost of children, informs me that his unpublished calculations put the cost of raising teenage girls at around 9–10% (A$800 per year) higher than the cost of raising teenage boys (email correspondence, 8 January 2007).

  4. 4.

    According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the proportion of ex-nuptial births was 13.2% in 1981 and 30.7% in 2001: “Population-Births” in Year Book 2004, Cat No 1301.0.

  5. 5.

    Children are identified as family members aged 18 or younger, coded as “dependent child” or “dependent student”.

  6. 6.

    For a detailed discussion of sex-selection technology and the laws governing its use in Australia, see Kippen et al. (2005). They point out that sex-selective abortion is likely to be extremely rare, as 99% of abortions/assisted miscarriages are carried out within the first trimester of pregnancy, before the point at which fetal gender can be determined. For parents using in vitro fertilization (IVF), Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis can facilitate sex-selection, but its use for nonmedical purposes is illegal in three Australian states (South Australia, Victoria, and Western Australia). Following a 2005 ruling by the Australian Health Ethics Committee, IVF clinics in other states have agreed not to use the technology for nonmedical reasons. Before the ruling, it is estimated that around 250 couples used the technology for nonmedical reasons (Robotham 2005).

  7. 7.

    One might also be concerned that the results presented in this paper do not reflect the effect of the gender of the first two children on marital status but what might be called “sample attrition through parity progression”. To take an extreme example, suppose that having a third child required: (a) two same-sex children, and (b) married parents. In this case, families with precisely two same-sex children would be more likely to be unmarried, even if the gender of the first two children had no direct impact on marital status. To test this theory, I estimate the effect of the first two children being of the same sex on marital status, with the sample being those with two or more children. The coefficients are smaller than those shown in the first column of Table 2 (0.006 when the dependent variable is 1 unmarried or 0 married, and 0.007 when the dependent variable is 1 never married or 0 married) but still statistically significant. I am grateful to Shelly Lundberg for suggesting this additional robustness check.


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Thanks to Alison Booth, Edith Gray, Tim Hatton, Paul Henman, Rebecca Kippen, Shelly Lundberg, Elena Varganova, Justin Wolfers and two anonymous referees for valuable comments on earlier drafts. I am especially grateful to Yi-Chia Wang for his assistance with this project.

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Correspondence to Andrew Leigh.

Additional information

This paper uses confidentialized unit record file data from the 1981–2001 Australian Census files. As the data used in this paper are confidential, they cannot be shared with other researchers. However, the Stata do-file is available from the author upon request.

Responsible editor: Christian Dustmann



Table A1 Comparing Australia and the USA

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Leigh, A. Does child gender affect marital status? Evidence from Australia. J Popul Econ 22, 351–366 (2009).

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  • Marriage
  • Divorce
  • Daughters
  • Sons

JEL Classification

  • J12
  • J13