Journal Article

Development, Modernization, and Childbearing: The Role of Family Sex Composition

Deon Filmer, Jed Friedman and Norbert Schady

in The World Bank Economic Review

Volume 23, issue 3, pages 371-398
Published in print October 2009 | ISSN: 0258-6770
Published online October 2009 | e-ISSN: 1564-698X | DOI:
Development, Modernization, and Childbearing: The Role of Family Sex Composition

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  • Demographic Economics
  • Economic Development


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Does the sex composition of existing children in a family affect fertility behavior? An unusually large data set, covering 64 countries and some 5 million births, is used to show that fertility behavior responds to the presence—or absence—of sons in many regions of the developing world. The response to the absence of sons is particularly large in Central Asia and South Asia. Modernization does not appear to reduce this differential response. For example, in South Asia the fertility response to the absence of sons is larger for women with more education and has been increasing over time. The explanation appears to be that a latent demand for sons is more likely to manifest itself when fertility levels are low. As a result of this differential fertility behavior, girls tend to grow up with significantly more siblings than do boys, with potential implications for their well-being when quantity–quality tradeoffs result in fewer material and emotional resources allocated to children in larger families.

Keywords: J16; J13; O15

Journal Article.  9697 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Demographic Economics ; Economic Development

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