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Is the male child preference declining in Bangladesh?

  • Published at 08:52 am January 26th, 2021
Girls education
Representational photo: Girls in a classroom Courtesy

The term male child preference refers to any situation where parents value sons over daughters and make resulting choices accordingly 

A study conducted by the University of Kent in the UK has showed a decline in "son preference" by women of childbearing age in Bangladesh.

However, the study from the university's School of Economics also shows that the decisions on fertility are still influenced according to son preference.

Published in Science Direct, the paper, "Is son preference disappearing from Bangladesh?" surveyed a nationally representative sample of Bangladeshi women of childbearing age, born between 1975 and 1994, to determine how son preference is evolving.

The term male child preference refers to any situation where parents value sons over daughters and make choices which result from these preferences, which can have a strong economic and demographic impact.

The study finds that among women of childbearing age in Bangladesh, son preference is giving way to a desire for gender balance, as a result of increased female education and employment. Actual fertility decisions, however, are still shaped by son preference, contrary to these stated fertility preferences.

Among the Bangladeshi women yet to  have a child, the proportions indicating a desire for sons and daughters were almost identical. 

For those with one or two children, the presence of a son has a strong negative effect on the desire for additional sons, and the presence of a daughter has a strong negative effect on the desire for additional daughters.

Son preference can lead to profound economic and demographic impacts upon female adult and maternal mortality, sex-selective abortions, gender differences in breastfeeding, intra-household gender bias in food allocation, gender differentials in infant and child mortality, imbalanced sex ratios and shortages of marriageable women in the population.

Furthermore, the study found evidence that the desire for gender balance in children was stronger among women who have completed secondary school and those who live in areas with more opportunities for female paid work, specifically in the ready-made garments sector. 

The desire for gender balance in children is also stronger among women co-residing with their mothers-in-law.

Also read: ‘Married adolescent girls are not lost causes’

Survival analysis, however, indicates that actual fertility decisions are still shaped by son preference. The study indicates that those without sons among their first two children are significantly more likely to have another child. 

The absence of a daughter among the first two children, on the other hand, has no corresponding effect on the decision to have another child.

Dr Zaki Wahhaj, principle investigator of the study and reader in Economics at Kent said: “Our research reveals a discrepancy between the child sex preferences of women in Bangladesh and their actual fertility behaviour. Whilst son preference has given way to a desire for children of both sexes as far as stated preferences are concerned, we find that actual fertility decisions of women in Bangladesh continue to be shaped by son preference.”

The research was jointly done by Dr Zaki Wahhaj, School of Economics, University of Kent; Teresa Randazzo, Department of Economics, University of Venice; Nazia Mansoor, University of Paris-Dauphine, London and M. Niaz Asadullah, Faculty of Economics and Administration, University of Malaya.

China, has been bearing the brunt of gender imbalance that stems from the male child preference. They have what has been dubbed as "bachelor villages" where there are no women because they have all either moved to the city to everyone in the village ended up having sons. China has one of the worst population gender gaps in the world – approximately 120 men for every 100 women. Globally, this ratio is around 105:100, but in some rural areas, the ratio can be as much as over 136 Chinese men for every 100 women. Millions of Chinese girls were lost since the making of the One Child Policy, and experts predict that by 2055, there will be 30% more single men than there will be women.