Skip to main content

An Economic Framework for Persisting Son Preference: Rethinking the Role of Intergenerational Support

Abstract

Son preference drives pre- and post-natal discrimination of daughters in many countries. It surprisingly survives in societies undergoing rapid transformation, and its correlates are not fully understood, particularly in the socio-economic sphere. This paper reviews the old-age security motive for son preference and proposes a new framework for this rationale. We argue that in patrilocal contexts, son preference survives where informal economic institutions (community and especially the family) persist as primary safety nets against various instances of income uncertainty, making up for the inefficiencies of state and market (formal institutions). This hypothesis is tested through a cross-country statistical analysis of ecological correlates of pre- and post-natal discrimination. Results confirm that, while son preference expresses through daughters’ neglect in more traditional societies, it endures through prenatal selection in contexts of improving living standards and, at the same time, strong reliance on network solidarity and informal insurance strategies. In support of these findings, we briefly review the main country-cases of sex selection, namely South Korea, China, Vietnam, India and the South Caucasian region.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

Notes

  1. In particular, Kosovo, Taiwan and Hong Kong could not be included in the sample.

  2. For vulnerable employment (R-squared: 0.8774), the predicting regression used indicators (from the UNDP and World Bank) of unemployment, share of employment in agriculture, an index of income inequality, and the regulatory quality index (i.e., an indicator computed by the World Bank capturing perceptions of the government’s ability to regulate and promote private sector development). For Afghanistan, Nepal, and Oman a sample mean approach was adopted since values were missing in the predictors. On the other hand, for pension spending (R-squared: 0.779), predictors included health expenditure, data on tax burden, overall employed population, and the rate of dependent population above 64 years of age (data sources: UNDP and World Bank).

  3. We constructed this last indicator from the original (scaled) patrilocality variable in group (1), in which a value of 1 was given only when patrilocal marriages accounted for 20% or more of the total marriages (i.e., when the original variable has value 2); alternatively, a value of 0 was given.

  4. This analysis was not conducted for the postnatal discrimination regression model because the main effect of socio-economic factors did not reach significance.

References

  • Alkema, L., Chao, F., You, D., Pedersen, J., & Sawyer, C. C. (2014). National, regional, and global sex ratios of infant, child, and under-5 mortality and identification of countries with outlying ratios: A systematic assessment. The Lancet Global Health, 2(9), e521–e530.

    Google Scholar 

  • Almond, D., Li, H., & Zhang, S. (2013). Land reform and sex selection in China. National Bureau of Economic Research.

  • Arnold, F., Choe, M. K., & Roy, T. K. (1998). Son preference, the family-building process and child mortality in India. Population Studies, 52(3), 301–315.

    Google Scholar 

  • Asal, V., & Brown, M. (2010). A cross-national exploration of the conditions that produce interpersonal violence. Politics & Policy, 38(2), 175–192.

    Google Scholar 

  • Attané, I. (2009). The determinants of discrimination against daughters in China: evidence from a provincial-level analysis. Population Studies, 63(1), 87–102.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bae, H.-O. (1996). Son preference in China, South Korea and India: trends, causes and policy implications. Transcript of Field Interviews Conducted for the Project and Funded by the United Nations Population Fund.

  • Basu, A., & Das Gupta, M. (2001). Family systems and the preferred sex of children.

  • Baumann, E. (2012). Post-Soviet Georgia: it’s a long, long way to ‘modern’social protection. Economies et Sociétés, 46(2), 259–285.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bawa, N., & Dhanda, N. (2016). An analytical study on asset under management of life insurance companies in India. Journal of Services Research, 16(1), 1–44.

    Google Scholar 

  • Becker, G. S., & Barro, R. J. (1988). A reformulation of the economic theory of fertility. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 103(1), 1–25.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bélanger, D. (2002). Son preference in a rural village in North Vietnam. Studies in Family Planning, 33(4), 321–334.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bélanger, D., & Barbieri, M. (2009). Reconfiguring families in contemporary Vietnam. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Berkman, L. F., Sekher, T. V., Capistrant, B., & Zheng, Y. (2012). Social networks, family, and care giving among older adults in India.

  • Bhalla, S. S., Kaur, R., & Agrawal, M. (2013). Son preference, fertility decline and the future of the sex ratio at birth.

  • Bhat, P. N. M., & Francis Zavier, A. J. (2007). Factors influencing the use of prenatal diagnostic techniques and the sex ratio at birth in India. Economic and Political Weekly, 42, 2292–2303.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cain, M. (1981). Risk and Insurance: Perspectives on fertility and agrarian change in India and Bangladesh. Population and Development Review, 7, 435–474.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chang, K.-S. (2010). Individualization without Individualism: Compressed modernity and obfuscated family crisis in East Asia. Journal of Intimate and Public Spheres, 3, 23–39.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chung, W., & Das Gupta, M. (2007). The decline of son preference in South Korea: The roles of development and public policy. Population and development review, 33(4), 757–783.

    Google Scholar 

  • Croll, E. (2000). Endangered daughters: Discrimination and development in Asia. London: Psychology Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Das Gupta, M., Zhenghua, J., Bohua, Li, Zhenming, X., Chung, W., & Hwa-Ok, B. (2003). Why is son preference so persistent in East and South Asia? A cross-country study of China, India and the Republic of Korea. The Journal of Development Studies, 40(2), 153–187.

    Google Scholar 

  • Andrea, D. B., & Hudson, V. (2017). Patrilineality, son preference, and sex selection in South Korea and Vietnam. Population and Development Review, 43(1), 119–147.

    Google Scholar 

  • Duthé, G., Meslé, F., Vallin, J., Badurashvili, I., & Kuyumjyan, K. (2012). High Sex ratios at birth in the Caucasus: Modern technology to satisfy old desires. Population and Development Review, 38(3), 487–501.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ebenstein, A., & Leung, S. (2010). Son preference and access to social insurance: Evidence from China’s Rural Pension Program. Population and Development Review, 36(1), 47–70.

    Google Scholar 

  • Goodkind, D. (1996). On substituting sex preference strategies in East Asia: Does prenatal sex selection reduce postnatal discrimination? Population and Development Review, 22, 111–125.

    Google Scholar 

  • Grogan, L. (2013). Household formation rules, fertility and female labour supply: Evidence from post-communist countries. Journal of Comparative Economics, 41(4), 1167–1183.

    Google Scholar 

  • Guilmoto, C. Z. (2009). The sex ratio transition in Asia. Population and Development Review, 35(3), 519–549.

    Google Scholar 

  • Guilmoto, C. Z., Dudwick, N., Gjonça, A., & Rahm, L. (2018). How do demographic trends change? The onset of birth masculinization in Albania, Georgia, and Vietnam 1990–2005. Population and Development Review, 44(1), 37–61.

    Google Scholar 

  • Guilmoto, C. Z., Hoang, X., & Van, T. N. (2009). Recent increase in sex ratio at birth in Vietnam. PLoS ONE, 4(2), e4624.

    Google Scholar 

  • Guilmoto, C. Z., & Ren, Q. (2011). Socio-economic differentials in birth masculinity in China. Development and Change, 42(5), 1269–1296.

    Google Scholar 

  • Guilmoto, C. Z., & Tafuro, S. (2017). Trends in the sex ratio at birth in Georgia. An overview based on the 2014 general population census data. Tbilisi: United Nations Population Fund.

  • Heise, L. L., & Kotsadam, A. (2015). Cross-national and multilevel correlates of partner violence: An analysis of data from population-based surveys. The Lancet Global Health, 3(6), e332–e340.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hoddinott, J. (1992). Rotten kids or manipulative parents: Are children old age security in Western Kenya? Economic Development and Cultural Change, 40(3), 545–565.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hohmann, S., & Lefèvre, C. (2014). Post-soviet transformations of health systems in the South Caucasus. Central Asian Affairs, 1(1), 48–70.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hu, L., & Schlosser, A. (2015). Prenatal sex selection and girls’ well-being: Evidence from India. The Economic Journal, 125(587), 1227–1261.

    Google Scholar 

  • ILO. (1984). Introduction to Social Security. Geneva: ILO.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jha, P., Kumar, R., Vasa, P., Dhingra, N., Thiruchelvam, D., & Moineddin, R. (2006). Low male-to-female sex ratio of children born in India: national survey of 1.1 million households. The Lancet, 367(9506), 211–218.

    Google Scholar 

  • John, M. E., Kaur, R., Palriwala, R., Raju, S., & Sagar, A. (2008). Planning families, planning gender: The adverse child sex ratio in selected districts of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab. New Delhi: ActionAid.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jütting, J. (2000). Social security systems in low-income countries: Concepts, constraints and the need for cooperation. International Social Security Review, 53(4), 3–24.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kashyap, R. (2018). Is prenatal sex selection associated with lower female child mortality? Population Studies, 73, 1–22.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kashyap, R., & Villavicencio, F. (2016). The dynamics of son preference, technology diffusion, and fertility decline underlying distorted sex ratios at birth: A simulation approach. Demography, 53(5), 1261–1281.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kim, Y.-M. (2006). Towards a comprehensive welfare state in South Korea: institutional features, new socio-economic and political pressures, and the possibility of the welfare state.

  • Kochar, A. (2000). Parental benefits from intergenerational coresidence: Empirical evidence from rural Pakistan. Journal of Political Economy, 108(6), 1184–1209.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lambert, S., & Rossi, P. (2016). Sons as widowhood insurance: Evidence from Senegal. Journal of Development Economics, 120, 113–127.

    Google Scholar 

  • Larsen, U., Chung, W., & Das Gupta, M. (1998). Fertility and son preference in Korea. Population Studies, 52(3), 317–325.

    Google Scholar 

  • Leung, J. C. B. (2003). Social security reforms in China: Issues and prospects. International Journal of Social Welfare, 12(2), 73–85.

    Google Scholar 

  • London, J. (2009). Welfare regimes in the wake of state socialism: Vietnam, China, and the Market-Leninist Welfare Regime. In Conference on" Asian Social Protection in Comparative Perspective, pp. 7–9.

  • Meslé, F., Vallin, J., & Badurashvili, I. (2007). A sharp increase in sex ratio at birth in the caucasus. Why? How. In Watering the Neighbour’s Garden: The Growing Demographic Female Deficit in Asia, Paris: Committee for International Cooperation in National Research in Demography, pp. 73–88.

  • Miller, B. D. (1987). Female infanticide and child neglect in rural North India. In C. Survival (Ed.), Nancy Scheper-Huges (pp. 95–112). New York: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nugent, J. B. (1985). The old-age security motive for fertility. Population and Development Review, 11, 75–97.

    Google Scholar 

  • Palma-Solis, M., Vives-Cases, C., & Álvarez-Dardet, C. (2008). Gender progress and government expenditure as determinants of femicide. Annals of Epidemiology, 18(4), 322–329.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pande, R., Malhotra, A., Mathur, S., Mehta, M., Malhotra, A., Lycette, M. A., Kambou, S. D., Magar, V., Gay, J., & Lary, H. (2006). Son preference and daughter neglect in India.

  • Peng, I. (2009). The political and social economy of care in the Republic of Korea. Geneva: United Nations Research Institute for Social Development Geneva.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rahm, L. (2018). Girls Wanted: The influence of public policies on sex selection in South Korea, India and Vietnam. Paris: Université Paris Descartes.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sakthivel, S., & Joddar, P. (2006). unorganised sector workforce in India: Trends, patterns and social security coverage. Economic and Political Weekly, 41, 2107–2114.

    Google Scholar 

  • Singh, K. (2014). Laws and son preference in India—A reality check.

  • Uberoi, Patricia. (2005). The family in India. Writing the Women’s Movement: A Reader. New Delhi: Zubaan, pp. 361–396.

  • UNFPA. (2012). Sex imbalances at birth: Trends, consequences and policy implications. Thailand: UNFPA, United Nation Population Fund of Asia and the Pacific Regional Office.

  • United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division. (2011). Sex differentials in childhood mortality. New York: United Nations.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sara Tafuro.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Appendix

Appendix

See Tables 4, 5, and 6.

Table 4 Correlation matrix of all dependent and independent variables included in the models
Table 5 Standardized beta regression coefficients pertaining to post-natal sex discrimination (partial models)
Table 6 Standardized beta regression coefficients pertaining to prenatal sex discrimination (partial models)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Tafuro, S. An Economic Framework for Persisting Son Preference: Rethinking the Role of Intergenerational Support. Popul Res Policy Rev 39, 983–1007 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11113-020-09594-8

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11113-020-09594-8

Keywords

  • Sex selection
  • Patrilocality
  • Old age
  • Social security
  • Informal insurance