Using data drawn from 2010, 2012, and 2013 American Time Use Survey Well-Being Modules, this paper examines the existence of son preference among fathers in the U.S. by estimating the effect of child gender on the fathers’ subjective well-being. A wide range of subjective well-being measures, including happiness, pain, sadness, stress, tiredness, and meaningfulness, is analyzed, and fixed-effects models are adopted to control for unobserved individual heterogeneity. The results from the full sample show that fathers feel less sad and tired when interacting with both sons and daughters versus with daughters only. In families with only one child, fathers report no difference in subjective well-being when spending time with a son versus with a daughter. By further stratifying this sample of fathers by child’s age of three, we continue to find no difference in paternal subjective well-being between being with a son and with a daughter when the child is younger than three. However, when the child is three or older, we find that fathers feel less stressed and more meaningful being with a son versus with a daughter. The results from Asian fathers in the U.S., in contrast, show a tremendous reduction in stress in activities with sons only than with daughters only. These results indicate no evidence of son preference in the general U.S. population. If there is any, it only exists among Asian fathers in the U.S.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Gallup survey has asked parents in the U.S. their preference for the gender of children 11 times since 1941 and consistently found that fathers—but not mothers—prefer a boy if they could have only one child (Newport, 2018).
Negraia et al. (2021, p. 830) described their models as random intercept models and their Stata do files available at https://osf.io/zxuhe/ show that they have used xtreg, re in Stata, which is also called random-effects models.
Their Stata do files show that although their descriptive statistics are weighted, none of their regression estimates are weighted. This could be because they are using the random effects models in Stata (xtreg, re) where probability weights are not allowed.
The random-intercept models have the same problems.
When Negraia et al. (2021) controlled for 16 major activities, their finding that fathers are more stressed when interacting with daughters or mixed-gender children versus with sons only was no longer statistically significant. Therefore, it is important to control for the types of activity. To fully capture the effects of different types of activity on subjective well-being, we control for the most detailed time-use categories available from the ATUS, amounting to 210 activities in the full sample.
Because the fixed effects estimation in Stata (xtreg, fe) does not allow weights to vary among activities, we use the package reghdfe developed by Correia (2016).
The unweighted sex ratios (sons/daughters) were 1.088 in the full sample, 1.080 in the one child sample, and 1.067 in the sample of Asian fathers in the U.S. Two factors, the sex ratios at birth and whether a child is living with a father, would affect the sex ratios in our samples of fathers. According to the analyses in Blau et al. (2020) of 2008–2013 American Community Survey data (which covered more or less the same time period as 2010, 2012, and 2013 ATUS WB modules used in our paper), there was no evidence of sex selection for the second or third child regardless of natives or immigrants. However, they found that a first daughter significantly raises the probability of living without a father among natives but not among immigrants. These might explain why the sex ratios are slightly higher in the full sample and the one child sample than in the sample of Asian fathers in the U.S., who were mostly immigrants.
The random effects estimation in Stata (xtreg, re) does not allow probability weights. Therefore, we report OLS results with probability weights. We have also carried out the Hausman specification tests for random effects and fixed effects using unweighted regressions based on the specification in Panel C of Table 3. Again, unweighted regressions are used because the random effects estimation in Stata does not allow probability weights. Of the six pairs of regressions, five rejected random effects in favor of fixed effects, whereas only one, the regression for pain, failed to reject random effects.
This finding is clearly different from the finding in Negraia et al. (2021) that fathers are more stressed while staying with daughters or mixed-gender children than with sons only. Furthermore, their result became statistically insignificant when 16 major activities were controlled for, whereas detailed activities are already controlled for in our result. As pointed out in Section Child Gender and Parental SWB, the divergent results seem to be due to the differences in estimation methods, weighting, and sample selection.
A Chow test of pooling based on the specification in Panel C indicates that the coefficients are different between Asian fathers and other fathers.
We do not use the specification with interaction terms of child age and gender because a Chow test based on the specification in Panel B of Tables 6 and 7 indicates that the coefficients are different between the two groups of singleton fathers. However, the specification with interaction terms produces more or less the same qualitative results.
Abrevaya, J. (2009). Are there missing girls in the United States? Evidence from birth data. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 1(2), 1–34. https://doi.org/10.1257/app.1.2.1.
Allison, P. D. (2009). Fixed effects regression models. SAGE publications.
Almond, D., & Edlund, L. (2008). Son-biased sex ratios in the 2000 United States Census. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(15), 5681–5682. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0800703105.
Ananat, E. O., & Michaels, G. (2008). The effect of marital breakup on the income distribution of women with children. Journal of Human Resources, 43(3), 611–629. https://doi.org/10.3368/jhr.43.3.611.
Andersson, G., Hank, K., Rønsen, M., & Vikat, A. (2006). Gendering family composition: Sex preferences for children and childbearing behavior in the Nordic countries. Demography, 43(2), 255–267. https://doi.org/10.1353/dem.2006.0010.
Angrist, J. D., & Evans, W. N. (1998). Children and Their Parents’ Labor Supply: Evidence from Exogenous Variation in Family Size. American Economic Review, 450–477.
Baker, M., & Milligan, K. (2016). Boy-girl differences in parental time investments: Evidence from three countries. Journal of Human capital, 10(4), 399–441. https://doi.org/10.1086/688899.
Bedard, K., & Deschenes, O. (2005). Sex preferences, marital dissolution, and the economic status of women. Journal of Human Resources, 40(2), 411–434. https://doi.org/10.3368/jhr.XL.2.411.
Blau, F. D., Kahn, L. M., Brummund, P., Cook, J., & Larson-Koester, M. (2020). Is there still son preference in the United States?. Journal of Population Economics, 1–42. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00148-019-00760-7.
Clark, A. E., Diener, E., Georgellis, Y., & Lucas, R. E. (2008). Lags and leads in life satisfaction: A test of the baseline hypothesis. The Economic Journal, 118(529), F222–F243. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-0297.2008.02150.x.
Clark, A. E., & Georgellis, Y. (2013). Back to baseline in Britain: adaptation in the British household panel survey. Economica, 80(319), 496–512. https://doi.org/10.1111/ecca.12007.
Connelly, R., & Kimmel, J. (2015). If you’re happy and you know it: How do mothers and fathers in the U.S. really feel about caring for their children? Feminist Economics, 21(1), 1–34. https://doi.org/10.1080/13545701.2014.970210.
Correia, S. (2016). A Feasible Estimator for Linear Models with Multi-Way Fixed Effects. Working Paper. http://scorreia.com/research/hdfe.pdf
Cox, M. J., Paley, B., Burchinal, M., & Payne, C. C. (1999). Marital perceptions and interactions across the transition to parenthood. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 611–625. https://doi.org/10.2307/353564
Dahl, G. B., & Moretti, E. (2008). The demand for sons. The Review of Economic Studies, 75(4), 1085–1120. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-937X.2008.00514.x.
Das Gupta, M., Zhenghua, J., Bohua, L., 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. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220380412331293807.
Duan, H., & Hicks, D. L. (2020). New evidence on son preference among immigrant households in the United States. IZA Journal of Development and Migration, 11(1). https://doi.org/10.2478/izajodm-2020-0014
Ferrer‐i‐Carbonell, A., & Frijters, P. (2004). How important is methodology for the estimates of the determinants of happiness. The Economic Journal, 114(497), 641–659. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-0297.2004.00235.x.
Frey, B. S., & Stutzer, A. (1999). Measuring preferences by subjective well-being. Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics (JITE)/Zeitschrift für die gesamte Staatswissenschaft, 755-778.
Goldin, C., Katz, L. F., & Kuziemko, I. (2006). The homecoming of American college women: The reversal of the college gender gap. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 20(4), 133–156. https://doi.org/10.1257/jep.20.4.133.
Golombok, S., Rust, J., Zervoulis, K., Croudace, T., Golding, J., & Hines, M. (2008). Developmental trajectories of sex‐typed behavior in boys and girls: A longitudinal general population study of children aged 2.5–8 years. Child Development, 79(5), 1583–1593. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2008.01207.x.
Grech, V. (2017). Further evidence of male offspring preference for certain subgroups in the United States (2007–2015. Early Human Development, 110, 9–12. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2017.04.011.
Gugl, E., & Welling, L. (2012). Time with sons and daughters. Review of Economics of the Household, 10(2), 277–298. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11150-011-9129-2.
Hamoudi, A., & Nobles, J. (2014). Do daughters really cause divorce? Stress, pregnancy, and family composition. Demography, 51(4), 1423–1449. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-014-0305-x.
Harris, K. M., & Morgan, S. P. (1991). Fathers, sons, and daughters: Differential paternal involvement in parenting. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 531-544. https://doi.org/10.2307/352730.
Hofferth, S. L., & Anderson, K. G. (2003). Are all dads equal? Biology versus marriage as a basis for paternal investment. Journal of Marriage and Family, 65(1), 213–232. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2003.00213.x.
Jayachandran, S., & Pande, R. (2017). Why Are Indian Children So Short? The Role of Birth Order and Son Preference. American Economic Review, 107(9) 2600–2629. https://doi.org/10.1257/aer.20151282.
Juhn, C., & Potter, S. (2006). Changes in labor force participation in the United States. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 20(3), 27–46. https://doi.org/10.1257/jep.20.3.27.
Jergins, W. (2021). Culture and son preference: Evidence from immigrants to the United States. Southern Economic Journal, 88(1), 168–198. https://doi.org/10.1002/soej.12509.
Katzev, A. R., Warner, R. L., & Acock, A. C. (1994). Girls or boys? Relationship of child gender to marital instability. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 89-100. https://doi.org/10.2307/352704.
Kohler, H. P., Behrman, J. R., & Skytthe, A. (2005). Partner+ children= happiness? The effects of partnerships and fertility on well‐being. Population and development review, 31(3), 407–445. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1728-4457.2005.00078.x.
Kornrich, S., & Furstenberg, F. (2013). Investing in children: Changes in parental spending on children, 1972–2007. Demography, 50(1), 1–23. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-012-0146-4.
Kreider, R. M., & Lofquist, D. A. (2014). Adopted children and stepchildren: 2010 (Current Population Reports, P20–572). Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.
Lamb, M. E., & Lewis, C. (2004). The development and significance of father-child relationships in two-parent families. In M. E. Lamb (ed), The role of the father in child development. 4th edn (pp. 272–306). Hoboken: Wiley.
Larsen Gibby, A., & Thomas, K. J. (2019). Adoption: a strategy to fulfill sex preferences of U.S. Parents. Journal of Marriage and Family, 81(2), 531–541. https://doi.org/10.1111/jomf.12541.
Lhila, A., & Simon, K. I. (2008). Prenatal health investment decisions: Does the child’s sex matter? Demography, 45(4), 885–905. https://doi.org/10.1353/dem.0.0032.
Lundberg, S. (2005a). Sons, daughters, and parental behaviour. Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 21(3), 340–356. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxrep/gri020.
Lundberg, S. (2005b). The division of labor by new parents: does child gender matter? IZA Discussion Paper 1787.
Lundberg, S., McLanahan, S., & Rose, E. (2007). Child gender and father involvement in fragile families. Demography, 44(1), 79–92. https://doi.org/10.1353/dem.2007.0007.
Lundberg, S., Pabilonia, S. W., & Ward-Batts, J. (2007) Time allocation of parents and investments in sons and daughters. Unpublished paper.
Lundberg, S., & Pollak, R. (2008). Family decision making. In S. N. Durlauf & L. Blume (Eds.), The new Palgrave dictionary of economics (Vol. 2) (pp. 254–260). London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
Lundberg, S., & Rose, E. (2002). The effects of sons and daughters on men’s labor supply and wages. Review of Economics and Statistics, 84(2), 251–268. https://doi.org/10.1162/003465302317411514.
Lundberg, S., & Rose, E. (2003). Child gender and the transition to marriage. Demography, 40(2), 333–349. https://doi.org/10.1353/dem.2003.0015.
Maccoby, E. E. (1999). The two sexes: Growing up apart, coming together (Vol. 4). Harvard University Press.
Mammen, K. (2008). The effect of children’s gender on living arrangements and child support. American Economic Review, 98(2), 408–12. https://doi.org/10.1257/aer.98.2.408.
Mammen, K. (2011). Fathers’ time investments in children: do sons get more? Journal of Population Economics, 24(3), 839–871. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00148-009-0272-5.
Margolis, R., & Myrskylä, M. (2016). Children’s Sex and the Happiness of Parents. European Journal of Population, 32(3), 403–420. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10680-016-9387-z.
Martin, C. L., Wood, C. H., & Little, J. K. (1990). The development of gender stereotype components. Child Development, 61(6), 1891–1904. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.1990.tb03573.x.
Meier, A., Musick, K., Fischer, J., & Flood, S. (2018). Mothers’ and fathers’ well‐being in parenting across the arch of child development. Journal of Marriage and Family, 80(4), 992–1004. https://doi.org/10.1111/jomf.12491.
Meier, A., Musick, K., Flood, S., & Dunifon, R. (2016). Mothering experiences: How single parenthood and employment structure the emotional valence of parenting. Demography, 53(3), 649–674. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-016-0474-x.
Musick, K., Meier, A., & Flood, S. (2016). How parents fare: Mothers’ and fathers’ subjective well-being in time with children. American Sociological Review, 81(5), 1069–1095. https://doi.org/10.1177/0003122416663917.
Negraia, D. V., Yavorsky, J. E., & Dukhovnov, D. (2021). Mothers’ and Fathers’ Well‐Being: Does the Gender Composition of Children Matter. Journal of Marriage and Family, 83(3), 820–844. https://doi.org/10.1111/jomf.12739.
Newport, F. (2018, July 5). Slight preference for having boy children persists in U.S. Gallup https://news.gallup.com/poll/236513/slight-preference-having-boy-children-persists.aspx.
Pollard, M. S., & Morgan, S. P. (2002). Emerging parental gender indifference? Sex composition of children and the third birth. American Sociological Review, 67(4), 600 https://doi.org/10.2307/3088947.
Price, J. (2008). Parent-child quality time does birth order matter? Journal of Human Resources, 43(1), 240–265. https://doi.org/10.1353/jhr.2008.0023.
Purewal, N. K. (2020). Son preference: Sex selection, gender and culture in South Asia. Routledge.
Raley, S., & Bianchi, S. (2006). Sons, daughters, and family processes: Does gender of children matter. Annu. Rev. Sociol., 32, 401–421. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.soc.32.061604.123106.
Raley, S., Bianchi, S. M., & Wang, W. (2012). When do fathers care? Mothers’ economic contribution and fathers’ involvement in child care. American Journal of Sociology, 117(5), 1422–59. https://doi.org/10.1086/663354.
Rose, E. (2018), Child Gender and the Family, in Averett, S. L., Argys, L. M., and Hoffman, S. D. (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Women and the Economy, Oxford Handbooks https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190628963.013.9.
Rossi, P., & Rouanet, L. (2015). Gender preferences in Africa: A comparative analysis of fertility choices. World Development, 72, 326–345. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2015.03.010.
Ruble, D. N., Martin, C. L., & Berenbaum, S.A. (2006). Gender development. In Eisenberg N., Damon W., & Lerner RM (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 3, Social, emotional, and personality development (pp. 859–932). Hoboken.
Sayer, L. C. (2010). Trends in housework. In Treas, J., & Drobnič, S. (Eds.). Dividing the domestic: Men, women, and household work in cross-national perspective. Stanford University Press. 19–38.
Schwarz, N., & Strack, F. (1999). Reports of subjective well-being: Judgmental processes and their methodological implications. Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology, 7, 61–84.
Schief, M., Vogt, S., & Efferson, C. (2021). Investigating the structure of son bias in Armenia with novel measures of individual preferences. Demography, 58(5), 1737–1764. https://doi.org/10.1215/00703370-9429479.
Sen, A. (1990). More than 100 million women are missing. The New York Review of books, 37(20), 61–66.
Sen, A. (1992). Missing women. BMJ: British Medical Journal, 304(6827), 587–588. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.304.6827.587.
Sen, A. (2001). The many faces of gender inequality. New republic, 35–39.
Sivak, E., & Smirnov, I. (2019). Parents mention sons more often than daughters on social media. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(6), 2039–2041. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1804996116.
Teachman, J. D., & Schollaert, P. T. (1989). Gender of children and birth timing. Demography, 26(3), 411–423. https://doi.org/10.2307/2061601.
Tian, F. F., & Morgan, S. P. (2015). Gender composition of children and the third birth in the United States. Journal of Marriage and Family, 77(5), 1157–1165. https://doi.org/10.1111/jomf.12218.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014). American Time Use Survey (ATUS) Data Dictionary: 2010, 2012, and 2013 Well-being Module Data Variables collected in the ATUS Well-being Module. https://www.bls.gov/tus/wbmintcodebk.pdf.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2022). American Time Use Survey User’s Guide. https://www.bls.gov/tus/atususersguide.pdf.
Yeung, W. J., Sandberg, J. F., Davis‐Kean, P. E., & Hofferth, S. L. (2001). Children’s time with fathers in intact families. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63(1), 136–154. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2001.00136.x.
We would like to thank seminar participants at the International Association for Time-use Research Conference in Spain, the Population Association of America Annual Meeting, and Union College for their valuable comments.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare no competing interests.
Publisher’s note Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Rights and permissions
Springer Nature or its licensor (e.g. a society or other partner) holds exclusive rights to this article under a publishing agreement with the author(s) or other rightsholder(s); author self-archiving of the accepted manuscript version of this article is solely governed by the terms of such publishing agreement and applicable law.
About this article
Cite this article
Song, Y., Gao, J. Do fathers have son preference in the United States? Evidence from paternal subjective well-being. Rev Econ Household (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11150-022-09640-8
- Son preference
- Child gender
- Subjective well-being
- Time use