Son Preference, Fertility Decline, and the Nonmissing Girls of Turkey


Couples in Turkey exhibit son preference through son-biased differential stopping behavior that does not cause a sex ratio imbalance in the population. Demand for sons leads to lower ratios of boys to girls in larger families but higher ratios in smaller families. Girls are born earlier than their male siblings, and son-biased fertility behavior is persistent in response to decline in fertility over time and across households with parents from different backgrounds. Parents use contraceptive methods to halt fertility following a male birth. The sibling sex composition is associated with gender disparities in health. Among third- or later-born children, female infant mortality is 1.5 percentage points lower if the previous sibling is male. The female survival advantage, however, disappears if the previous sibling is female. Having an older female sibling shifts the gender gap in infant mortality rate by 2 percentage points in favor of males. The improvement in infant mortality is strongest in favor of males who have no older male siblings.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    See Chung and Gupta (2007) and Edlund and Lee (2013) for South Korea; Qian (2008) for China; Jayachandran (2014) for India; and Guilmoto and Duthé (2013) for Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.

  2. 2.

    Death of a child younger than 1 year.

  3. 3.

    Females are less likely to die from infections and respiratory ailments because of their stronger immune system (Drevenstedt et al. 2008).

  4. 4.

    The abortion law was passed in 1983 and remains with slight modifications up to the present time.

  5. 5.

    Because 77.2 % of deaths in the sample occurred within the first year after birth, sex ratios for children who are alive seem to be accurate approximations of the actual sibling sex composition.

  6. 6.

    The annual average GDP per capita growth was around 2.71 % between 1993 and 2008, which corresponds with an increase in real GDP per capita from 5,435 to 7,730 in constant 2005 U.S. dollars. The World Bank estimated that the total fertility rate declined from 2.8 births per woman in 1993, to 2.1 in 2008, corresponding to a 25 % decline in the total fertility rate (

  7. 7.

    In the survey, pregnancy termination is defined as having a miscarriage, an abortion, or stillbirth.

  8. 8.

    Table S1 in Online Resource 1 documents the results from the OLS regressions with and without adjustment for covariates.

  9. 9.

    See Table S2 in Online Resource 1 for the full set of individual coefficients.

  10. 10.

    Traditional methods include coitus interruptus, periodic abstinence, and vaginal douche. Modern methods include oral contraceptives, the Pill, injections, female or male condom, intrauterine device, and sterilization.

  11. 11.

    Specifically, the survey question asked the following: “Has the respondent had ever had a pregnancy that was terminated by a miscarriage, abortion, or stillbirth, i.e., did not result in a live birth?”

  12. 12.

    See Abadie et al. (2013) for the detailed description of the methodology.

  13. 13.

    Jeremy Ferwerda provides a Stata routine, available online (

  14. 14.

    Coefficients for death of a child under age 5 are not reported but are available upon request from the author.

  15. 15.

    See Online Resource 1, Table S8, for the results.


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I thank three anonymous referees who provided insightful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. I received valuable input from Ted Joyce, Wim Vijverberg, Stephen O’Connell, Mike Grossman, David Jaeger, and Alper Dinçer. Seminar participants at CUNY Institute for Demographic Research, The Graduate Center, Bahçeşehir University, Hunter College, and Koç University provided extensive and helpful comments. Special thanks go to the Schindler sisters for their editorial feedback.

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Correspondence to Onur Altindag.

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Altindag, O. Son Preference, Fertility Decline, and the Nonmissing Girls of Turkey. Demography 53, 541–566 (2016).

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  • Son preference
  • Stopping rules
  • Turkey
  • Infant health