"Having a daughter makes it less likely that they keep having children."
March 5, 2018 10:46 AM   Subscribe

Americans Might No Longer Prefer Sons Over Daughters. New evidence suggests a shift, possibly because of “a subtle fear of boys and the trouble they might bring.” (SLYNYT by Claire Cain Miller) "Around the world, parents have typically preferred to have sons more than daughters, and American parents have been no different. But there are signs that’s changing. It may be because there’s less bias against girls, and possibly more bias against boys."
posted by crazy with stars (75 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite


 
huh, I heard exactly this from my Canadian friends nearly 20 years ago. There was a pretty explicit, low-key bias against sons. That said, most people were genuinely happy with whatever kind of baby they got but I was really surprised by how explicit some people were in saying they'd rather have daughters.

They'd usually follow up with it only being easier until 11 or 12 when somehow sons became easier than daughters, which was an equally odd bias although perhaps not without some merit. My observation is more or less that the individual difference between kids tends to outweigh whatever larger patterns that may or may not exist.
posted by GuyZero at 10:57 AM on March 5 [3 favorites]


We had an FPP about a similar NYT piece about a year and a half ago.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 11:05 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


I wonder what kind of damage this bias does to the child when the parents don't get what they wanted, assuming the parents fundamentally love the child anyway.
posted by Brocktoon at 11:14 AM on March 5 [4 favorites]


I had always assumed I'd have a son, if for no other reason than because I was a boy and I knew what to do. As it turns out, though, you can do those things with girls, too. My 15-month-old daughter just threw me a football for the first time yesterday! I really can't imagine life without a little girl. They really are incredible.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:19 AM on March 5 [14 favorites]


A lot of the pro-girl baby reasons in the article definitely ring true to me, but there are two others I didn’t see.

Personally, I look back on my (happy and uneventful) childhood with some level of embarrassment. Little boys are goofy and some of my most indelible memories involve being embarrassed by that, and I am not particularly eager to relive that vicariously through a son.

Second, as a young boy I found it really hard to relate to other boys my age and this introduces a twofold worry of not being able to relate to *my* young boy or help him relate to others.

When the other option is “be a strong progressive male role model who empowers his daughter to take on the patriarchy” it’s clear which one is more attractive, in theory.
posted by mpbx at 11:21 AM on March 5 [16 favorites]





When the other option is “be a strong progressive male role model who empowers his daughter to take on the patriarchy” it’s clear which one is more attractive, in theory.
posted by mpbx at 2:21 PM on March 5 [1 favorite +] [!]


Boys need this, too
posted by FirstMateKate at 11:25 AM on March 5 [92 favorites]


They'd usually follow up with it only being easier until 11 or 12 when somehow sons became easier than daughters, which was an equally odd bias although perhaps not without some merit. My observation is more or less that the individual difference between kids tends to outweigh whatever larger patterns that may or may not exist.

And then, in adulthood, the bias tends to swing back to "it's good to have a daughter because she will take care of you in your old age." (Which is actually true, but I've ranted at length before about the folly of having kids just to have built-in elder care.) Then there's the issue of maternal grandparents usually being closer to the grandkids.

What gives me pause are 1) all the gender stereotypes of girls are from Venus and boys are from Mars, etc. and 2) your assigned-female-at-birth child might not actually be a girl, and same with assigned male at birth. Your kid could also be gender-fluid or just gender-nonconforming, and parents who have their hearts set on a stereotypical boy or girl need to think about this.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:27 AM on March 5 [30 favorites]


How to Raise a Boy - "I’m not sure what to think about what my dad tried to teach me. So what should I teach my sons?" Will Leitch
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:30 AM on March 5 [5 favorites]


My parents always told me they'd hoped I'd be a girl (I am) because they are small and figured I'd be small (I am) and being small is easier on a woman (it is).
posted by millipede at 11:32 AM on March 5 [8 favorites]


My mom was pretty open about the fact that due to her own childhood she didn't want any girl children and was a bit scared to raise a girl. I don't think I was like psychically scarred by that fact, I think the sort of shitty lessons she learned from her parents that made her scared to raise a girl in the first place were more damaging in a psychological sense.
posted by muddgirl at 11:32 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]


I've always, I guess, assumed this had something to do with the fact that it seemed like feminism's influence on my generation--I'm now in my 30s--still felt largely abstract, and we were stuck at "girls still are encouraged to spend their whole childhoods fantasizing about being mothers, but boys don't necessarily reach adulthood having spent much time at all thinking about parenting". And you know, all those dolls I had as a kid--like 95% of them were girls. If I hadn't been so aggressively pushed in that direction as a child, I don't know that I would have even cared about having kids as an adult. Which I didn't, but I have really mixed feelings about. But if I'd had kids--yeah, I would have leaned that direction, just because I'd spent my whole early life imagining that outcome, and I don't remember ever having had a boyfriend who felt more than an abstract sense of "yes kids are a box I should check off someday", though I'm sure they would have felt much more attachment to actual children.
posted by Sequence at 11:40 AM on March 5 [3 favorites]


Five or more years ago, when a lot of my female friends and colleagues were still having children/raising young children/deciding whether to stop having children, all I heard was a chorus of "GIRLS ARE HARD! BOYS ARE JUST EASIER!" But I'm not hearing that so much anymore. If it really is a case of, "If I have to figure out how to raise a son without falling back on the easy gender essentialism that made the patriarchy such a mess, I'd rather not be bothered raising a son at all," well, I don't really know what to make of that. I certainly hope that's a minority opinion. And I say that as the second daughter of a man who never wasted a chance to make it known how much he had wanted sons, or complete tomboy daughters at the very least.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:40 AM on March 5 [10 favorites]


I've ranted at length before about the folly of having kids just to have built-in elder care.

The catch-22 of middle-class economic mobility is that it seems (to me) to be pretty tightly coupled to geographic mobility. My sister is now 325 miles from my parents and I'm 2,500 miles. For my in-laws their kids are 2,700 miles and 4,100 miles. Separate from the hard decisions this forces on the kids, it's not a very good outlook for care from the aging parents' point of view. The top places for retirement and the top places for employment don't have a ton of overlap, to say nothing of kids whose careers are geographically concentrated.
posted by GuyZero at 11:41 AM on March 5 [12 favorites]


Boys need this, too

I know, but that doesn’t fix my other two issues.
posted by mpbx at 11:50 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]


They'd usually follow up with it only being easier until 11 or 12 when somehow sons became easier than daughters, which was an equally odd bias although perhaps not without some merit.

I'm sure it's just a coincidence that "conventional wisdom" holds that the cutover point where girls become more work than boys is (1) the age at which parents have to start policing their kids' sexuality and (2) the age at which girls are taught to regulate their own emotional states while boys get to keep on being boys.
posted by Mayor West at 11:54 AM on March 5 [87 favorites]


Always wanted a kid. Used to picture myself with a daughter. Ended up with a son. When we saw the ultrasound I had to do an internal reset because that's not what I had been expecting.

But, really... I have a kid, I'm happy. It doesn't matter if the kid is a boy, a girl, in between, whatever - my job is to raise him not to be an asshole. "Not being an asshole" isn't based on gender, it's based on not being an asshole, and anyone can teach their kids not to be assholes.

I'll check back here in 20+ years and let you know how he's doing on the "not being an asshole" thing.
posted by caution live frogs at 11:56 AM on March 5 [21 favorites]


I'm terrified of having a baby boy because there's only one boy's name I like and I already gave it to my dog.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 11:59 AM on March 5 [87 favorites]


I have a friend my age whose parents so explicitly wanted a boy that they gave their daughter a stereotypical boys name - and made it no secret they wished she was a boy. My wife's father is also heavily biased towards sons, as the only male grandson gets way more stuff from grandpa than any of his daughters or many female grandchildren. My mom & her sister got nothing when their parents died, their younger brother got everything.

I think that level of bias is what is gone now.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:00 PM on March 5 [7 favorites]


"If I have to figure out how to raise a son without falling back on the easy gender essentialism that made the patriarchy such a mess, I'd rather not be bothered raising a son at all,"

i think it's more like "i spent my entire life being punished, overtly and subtly, for not figuring out how to perform masculinity, and am afraid i would somehow infect my son with that".
posted by vogon_poet at 12:08 PM on March 5 [17 favorites]


...my job is to raise him not to be an asshole. "Not being an asshole" isn't based on gender, it's based on not being an asshole, and anyone can teach their kids not to be assholes.

I don't mean to pick on you specifically because it's the whole culture that's at fault here, but I'm pretty sure you only get off so easy because you have a boy.

For girls, not being an asshole just isn't enough. For example, they need to be taught how to perform emotional labour - and that they shouldn't have to perform emotional labour. That's just one example.

(I have a girl. And another on the way.)
posted by kitcat at 12:16 PM on March 5 [8 favorites]


It never occurred to me, when we thought having a kid, to have a preference. But for my partner it was very clear - she'd prefer a boy to a girl. Her parents for many years ran a group home for sexually abused girls. She grew up steeped in the damage adults would bring on children, particularly girls. She didn't want to see another person she loved destroyed by that kind of evil. Because of that history, the intimate knowledge of that kind of destruction, we made a conscious effort to parent against prevailing gender norms. We attempted to largely raise our kid to be gender free for the first 5 or so years of his life. The amount of push back from friends, family and random strangers was pretty remarkable. We weathered it fine and found a circle of similarly minded people. School has largely derailed those efforts but the foundation is there for the most part and we try hard to dismantle any "girls are like this... and boys are like this..." kinds of thinking before they become too entrenched.

Parenting, regardless of the gender of your child, can be a minefield. Every glorious and irritating aspect of your self will be scrutinized and observed - by your kid and by everybody else.
posted by Ashwagandha at 12:19 PM on March 5 [5 favorites]


When I describe mine and my sister’s family roles growing up I was the “son,” - my dad shared Monty Python and SNL with me when I was a preteen, taught me how to use tools, how to do basic car repairs and as I got older, talked politics with me. Also pushed me so strongly to get a ROTC scholarship to engineering school that it never occurred to me until I flunked out and lost the scholarship that I could actually study anything else.

My younger sister was the stereotypical “daddy’s girl,” until he passed away when she was 20.

Fortunately I never had any impression that they’d rather I was a boy.
posted by bendy at 12:23 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]


I'm a man. I wanted a daughter. So did my wife. Don't know why. Maybe because I was a kid who never gave a damn about spectator sports, and that labeled me odd in the community of boys I grew up in. And, heck, I didn't even have the language to talk about my feelings until college, let alone process and work through them.

After she was born, and awesome, I wanted another one just like her. I got another girl, but not one like her at all. Still awesome, though. Now I've got a brand new third girl. I've got a pretty good feeling about her, too.

I have to think that there are more culturally acceptable ways to be a girl these days than there are to be a boy. I feel like there's been more and earlier pushback against toxic femininity than there's been against toxic masculinity (although I think that's now changing). Probably because much of the language we have to address it comes out of feminism, and I think many of those thinkers were operating on a "put the oxygen mask on yourself first" model. Which, you can't blame them.

Absent our higher cultural capital communities, the range of acceptable emotional expression for boys is limited to mostly negative emotions, particularly anger. That's pretty fucked up.
posted by leotrotsky at 12:24 PM on March 5 [18 favorites]


For girls, not being an asshole just isn't enough. For example, they need to be taught how to perform emotional labour - and that they shouldn't have to perform emotional labour. That's just one example.

I mean. I think part of not being an asshole is performing emotional labor. I think everyone needs to be taught to perform emotional labor. I encourage and reward it in my son.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 12:25 PM on March 5 [17 favorites]


I'm terrified of having a baby boy because there's only one boy's name I like and I already gave it to my dog.

So? That didn't stop Henry Jones Jr.
posted by leotrotsky at 12:30 PM on March 5 [21 favorites]


I have to think that there are more culturally acceptable ways to be a girl these days than there are to be a boy.

I don't. I think it's more that women are stuck with "damned if they do; damned if they don't," and so parents get to say, fuck it, whatever you want to do, someone is going to say it's horrible and wrong, so - you do you, kid, and I'll support that.

With boys, there's a broader range of acceptable behavior that doesn't get backlash. A lot of it is asshole behavior, so parents are stuck with giving the message: Option 1 is what we believe is good behavior, and Option 2 is what won't get you publicly insulted. If you're lucky, there's some overlap between them, but it's still a hard set of guidelines to hand to a kid.

Girls don't have an Option 2. This doesn't make things easier, but it is simpler for the parents.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:37 PM on March 5 [18 favorites]


I grew up in a female-dominated household and when we learned my first baby was a girl I was kind of ecstatic that I would get to connect with her over the girl-things and pictured us doing them together. One of those things was brushing long hair, if she so desired it.

My daughter didn't survive and my next two babies were sons and I did feel a bit wistful about that in a vague way (harsh lesson: a living child is the kind you want!) Well, it's been amazing and who knew that one day I would identify strongly with being a mom to boys. But also, my eldest had thick, thick, beautiful hair he grew past his shoulders for a long time and I got to brush it, both of them have worn nail polish, and one day I will take them for spa days. And whenever I want to create a feminist bond, I talk to them because - why not. Ask Us About Consent. :)

I broke my leg this winter and my eldest watched me hobble around one afternoon and then came in and sat down and said in his Serious Voice, "Now mom...I have been watching you and I think you have not been following the doctor's advice and you have been overdoing it. I want to make dinner." I suddenly had a flash forward to how the "you can no longer drive/live independently" conversation is going to go.

TL;DR: This article might be accurate about how people behave, think, and feel, but ehn. Healthy happy babies are the best. Caring, capable kids are amazing. Let's put our efforts into creating those adjectives.
posted by warriorqueen at 12:37 PM on March 5 [87 favorites]


I guess I'm kind of weird? I want one of each. But also to be honest when I was pregnant with the kid I do have, I yearned desperately for her to be a daughter - to share all my advice and hobbies and clothes and love on. And she turned out to be! But I think if I had a son first I would have definitely kept going until I got at least one daughter.

But it's not because I don't want to do the hard work of raising a boy or I think there are less opportunities for them. I don't really know how to quantify my feelings on this, really.
posted by corb at 12:40 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


Just for once I would love to see one of these threads not turn into an oppression olympics style contest. It's soul destroying. I was a feminine boy, and in adulthood later turned out to be trans. I had a very rough time, and it was made even crueller by cis women delighting in telling me how easy it is to be a boy. I now have two kids of my own, a boy and a girl (both of whom appear to be cis!) and the parenting challenges are very different. My son is a sweet, gentle kid with very high anxiety and most of what I do is try to encourage him to be more confident without telling him its wrong for him to feel the emotions he feels. My daughter is a tiny hurricane on legs, and most of my parenting challenges there are trying to corral that energy just enough to make sure that she doesn't hurt other people while still giving her room to be who she wants to be. Gender is hard. Parenting is hard. It doesn't help to start reducing any of these complexities to a "who has it worst" competition.
posted by saltbush and olive at 12:40 PM on March 5 [55 favorites]


It's unfortunate that they didn't tease out racial differences here.

In some black communities, the prevalence of single mother-headed households (and matriarchal family structures in general), as well as all the bad things that happen to black boys and men all work together to support a preference for daughters that many women don't even try to hide. As a community, I'm not sure we have a lot of confidence in what to do with boys or men - a family's best efforts can't necessarily keep their sons from becoming another Trayvon.

A son who falls off the middle-class life course may wind up in prison or dead; a daughter, at worst, might become a teenaged mother...which is at least a circumstance that we know how to work with. Is this classist and stereotypical? Sure, but it's also the reality for a lot of families.

And I'm not about to pretend for the sake of political correctness that our culture has quite the same depth of discourse on gender roles that's taking place in the mainstream. It simply doesn't, which makes it tricky to unpack what it means to parent a son when you have to come to terms with your own latent discomfort about what it means to be male and black.
posted by blerghamot at 12:53 PM on March 5 [50 favorites]


> caution live frogs:
"anyone can teach their kids not to be assholes."

Unfortunately, this turns out to be harder than it sounds.
I mean, look at all the assholes!
posted by chavenet at 1:05 PM on March 5 [23 favorites]


I don't have kids, and don't plan on having them, but I'm kind of surprised people have such strong preferences. I thought it was one of those things that sort of evaporated upon contact with reality, like a battle plan.

Like, when we're single, we have this idea of our ideal mate, and then we meet someone, and a good partner is seldom even close what'd have said our ideal was. Love sort of takes over, and you can't imagine that you ever wanted differently. So too, I figured parents feel about their kids.
posted by explosion at 1:06 PM on March 5 [4 favorites]


Maybe because I was a kid who never gave a damn about spectator sports, and that labeled me odd in the community of boys I grew up in.

yeah, I think the best thing a parent can do is to spend some time in therapy trying to unpack their own childhood. "Tell me about your childhood" is basically the reductionist trope summary of most of psychotherapy but really, it's kind of a big deal.

I too never really participated in organized sports and my dad never watched them and neither did I and then about grade 6 or so I realize my first kid, my son, was in fact a jock. And it is indeed weird. You're not just driving your kids to baseball games, although the brute logistics of it are a part-time job, you're driving them to an entirely different culture with different values and norms and everything. I might as well have been driving my WASP kid to bar mitzvah lessons. At least I wouldn't have had to drive to Concord or Fairfield for a weekend of that.

But such is the life of a parent and is probably the part I was least prepared for - on one level of course your kids are going to be different from you, although everyone wishes to some extent that their kid is like themself, but no one tells you your kid might end up being a person who you really have no idea what to do with and whose desires and interests not only diverge from yours but sometimes leave you completely lost without any sort of cultural road map at all. Like how to fuck do you cope with the stress of being a baseball pitcher? I'd have an easier time explaining how to organize a Turkish wedding. (which is to say I have no clue how to do either of those things)

Anyway, the good news is that for me this was a great opportunity to do absolutely nothing in that I drove the kid to games and asked him how he was feeling but otherwise let him figure it out for himself which was probably hard for him but also probably the better thing to do in the long run. This is for me the crux of people wishing for boys versus girls - that they think girls fuck up less and think they'll have better advice for girls or that whatever their advice is that maybe girls will listen to it. My takeaway from having two kids nearly fully grown is that my advice was all pretty useless anyway* and the best thing is to listen and be present and that seemed to work equally well with my son and daughter.

* I still remember how to do high school math pretty well and I actually had good advice on how to make it through geometry class but that was the exception rather than the rule.
posted by GuyZero at 1:08 PM on March 5 [13 favorites]


I thought it was one of those things that sort of evaporated upon contact with reality, like a battle plan.

While battle plans do evaporate on contact with reality, people still think they have everything figured out beforehand and do indeed have a lot of justifications for their preferences. Unsurprisingly, post-partum no one ever mentions their pre-birth preferences again.
posted by GuyZero at 1:10 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]


I wonder what kind of damage this bias does to the child when the parents don't get what they wanted, assuming the parents fundamentally love the child anyway.

Ask your friends Georgina, Martina, Simone, and Henrietta!
posted by rhizome at 1:12 PM on March 5 [4 favorites]


So hey my name is the feminine form of a male name. My daughter's name is also the feminine form of a male name. It's frustrating that so many names are like that, but implying that parents who name their daughters that way actually wanted a boy is super gross
posted by saltbush and olive at 1:18 PM on March 5 [19 favorites]


I was assigned female at birth - hence the username - but to my parents' credit, they raised me in a fairly gender-neutral manner. Maybe my dad really wanted a boy (and he eventually got one) but I don't know how he would have raised me any differently had he known. We threw around a football, worked on his motorcycles together, went to sporting events and car shows. I wasn't discouraged from "boy toys." Around age 8, I cut my hair short and never wore a dress again save for holidays. My mom was a little reluctant but wasn't pushy.

As a trans person, I will be eternally grateful for that. You can't know what gender your kid is going to turn out to be when they're born so it makes the most sense to expose them to as many things as possible and let them tell you when they're ready.
posted by AFABulous at 1:22 PM on March 5 [17 favorites]


Certainly the answer when asking them could be "none," but I think it's fair to inquire there if one is going to research the idea.
posted by rhizome at 1:23 PM on March 5


I think there's another point to be made - it's not just people wanting girls, it's people not wanting sons badly enough to have a large family in order to get one (or an "heir and a spare"). Outside of certain religious subcultures, people worldwide are having one to three children - and if they're daughters, so be it. Concerted cultivation is more and more the norm; people want their kids to have the time, attention, education, and extras that are doable for one or two kids instead of four or five.

People don't have five or six kids just so that two or three will survive and help work the family farm - which means that many of the reasons to have sons in particular aren't applicable either (no more genteel, sonless poverty like what Jane Austen chronicled).

Someone might want a girl or a boy, but very few are willing to keep on having expensive, energy-sapping large families in order to get one and would rather accept what Nature gives them.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:28 PM on March 5 [14 favorites]


kevinbelt: As it turns out, though, you can do those things with girls, too.

I read about a couple of studies recently which found that when you put "girl toys" and "boy toys" in front of kids, all kids play with the "boy toys" more.

...which kinda suggests that we've decided as a society that boys should get the fun toys and girls should get the boring toys, and we should enforce that with all the weight of gendered expectations that we can muster.
posted by clawsoon at 1:45 PM on March 5 [8 favorites]


it's not just people wanting girls, it's people not wanting sons badly enough to have a large family in order to get one

The US fertility rate remains high relative to its peer nations, but it is indeed dropping after decades of being a big outlier. As recently as 2006 the US fertility rate was 2.12 and now it's come down to 1.84 (2015), still above peers but a 13% drop is a significant change.
posted by GuyZero at 1:47 PM on March 5


I have one of each and people frequently go out of their way to comment that I must be done, how perfect, I'm so lucky, etc. I would actually love to have more kids if it was something we could afford, so every time I hear that it's kind of a bummer.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 2:00 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]


You can't know what gender your kid is going to turn out to be when they're born so it makes the most sense to expose them to as many things as possible and let them tell you when they're ready.

Slight tangent, but a friend of mine from high school just had a baby, and buying a card to send along with the baby blanket I had just knitted was a weird experience. All the "boy" cards were like, "Get ready for frogs in their pockets and dirty hands", and all the "girl" cards were like, "You must be looking forward to tea parties and princess gowns", and I'm standing there like, I don't know this baby, how am I supposed to know what they will like? I kinda wanted to buy a card that said "Congrats!" and nothing else, but I thought that would be too weird, so I bought one of the least gendered girl cards they had and called it a day.
posted by chainsofreedom at 2:41 PM on March 5 [22 favorites]


*makes faces* I'd like kids, but I'm a little scared of parenting a boy, mostly because--well, my experience is so limited! I have two sisters, no brothers; most of my friends are female or nonbinary; my dad was, while I get on better with him than I do my mother, also essentially absent for large swathes of time when I was growing up. All my male cousins were significantly younger than me and I had moved away by the time that might have been relevant, and so I wind up going--how would I even make a model for a son to follow, except by encouraging him to pause and think and listen and just, be a human being? I understand girls better, because my experiences are so centered on women. It's an intimidating thought, although at the same point... well, my philosophy on parenting more or less boils down to listen to your kid, pay close attention, find out what works. So I am pretty sure that scared or not, we'd figure it out together.

It's kind of a moot point because in no way can we afford a kid right now either in money or in time, so my partner and I haven't really talked about genders we'd like--and obv, sex assigned at birth isn't going to be your best final predictor of gender, either. We have talked fairly extensively about plans for kids who express opinions on gender one way or the other, and how we'd support our kids no matter how they decide to interpret gender; we talk all the time about the sorts of toys we'd like to buy kids (mostly because they look fun to interact with!), and we absently bring up "when kids happen, we'll handle this that way, right?" "yeah, that sounds smart" or "hrm, I had figured this way, but your way has some good points too" or "I don't know if I like that way" all the time.

It's just... well, you don't get to pick unless you're willing to pay more, and forget the cost of giving birth, we have to worry about the cost of getting pregnant in the first place, and whether to have kids that way or not, or whether to try adoption, and if so what ages to aim for, and if if if if if--

it seems like a small thing to worry about too much. That's all.
posted by sciatrix at 2:42 PM on March 5 [4 favorites]


The future is female?
posted by overglow at 2:50 PM on March 5


This article was speculation after speculation after speculation. OK, then, more bloviating on and off the internet. Fine.

I'm a guy who hoped for a girl (I don't know why) and got one. My wife was a little apprehensive because she misbehaved as a teenage girl (of course, I did, too, as a teenage boy).

This was a while ago. She turned into a marvelous compassionate self-directed scientist. My only regret was that day I showed her how to turn a magnifying glass into a crayon-melting leaf-burning tool of power. (OK, we each fried a few ants, but that's no fun.) This kept me busy for a couple of years. It kept her interested for fifteen minutes.

Yes, there was the pink princess phase. She actually said that she didn't like movies (Disney) unless they ended with a wedding. Wow. But I loved it all, even that strange shit...I always had a taste for the outré, and typical little girl development was at least as bizarre as biting heads off bats, for me. (Yes, I had sisters, but they didn't go through that hyper-feminine stage. It was different in the 50s/60s. The marketing was lax.) I understand most of the sentiments above, as contradictory as they are. Humans make sense of the world in a way that makes it conform to their expectations so that they can be happy--or at least satisfied.
posted by kozad at 4:02 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


It's kind of a moot point because in no way can we afford a kid right now either in money or in time

This is...basically true for so many more people than I wish it was, and I think it has to have an impact on the gender-choicing thing. When people are severely limited, they try to figure out how to optimize for the situation, rather than being able to just embrace what comes.

I am in this boat myself so it is not an abstract boat.
posted by corb at 4:13 PM on March 5 [3 favorites]


I wonder what kind of damage this bias does to the child when the parents don't get what they wanted

Meet my Dad. Meet his Dad. Meet my therapist.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:41 PM on March 5 [9 favorites]


As recently as 2006 the US fertility rate was 2.12 and now it's come down to 1.84 (2015), still above peers but a 13% drop is a significant change.

Isn't that in large part because of the economic deterioration many people have experienced? When we are having front page articles about professionals living in dorms (and similar FPPs), choices about how many children to have are affected as well.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:12 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


Before having our first kid I wanted a boy. It wasn't for any specific reason and it wasn't a big want, but the preference was there. I'm a boy and my only sibling is my brother so boys is what I know. We had a girl (which is what my wife wanted) and from the first moment I was just thinking that she's the best. For our second kid I again wanted a boy but at the same time I was thinking that my daughter is pretty great and I'd love to have another kid like her. I know it happens, but I am still astonished that someone can be disappointed that their kid isn't the gender they want for longer than 5 minutes, let alone long enough to take it out on the kid.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 5:20 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


I'm terrified of having a baby boy because there's only one boy's name I like and I already gave it to my dog.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars


Seriously, two or three cars, we have talked about this. Fang is not a good name for a boy anymore anyway.

posted by philip-random at 5:41 PM on March 5 [14 favorites]


Isn't that in large part because of the economic deterioration many people have experienced?

The US has had economic ups and downs plenty of times before and it never really affected the birth rate much. Oddly France and the UK are seeing upticks in fertility rate and it's not like the economies there are going so great.
posted by GuyZero at 5:42 PM on March 5


I wonder what kind of damage this bias does to the child when the parents don't get what they wanted, assuming the parents fundamentally love the child anyway.

I have spent my whole life with the knowledge that my mom wanted a boy first and girl second and that she considered the boy a bigger deal. But as problems with my mom go? It really doesn't rate terribly high. Like--I guess I do sort of hold it against her, but what I hold against her is not so much that she wanted me to be a boy, it's that she really didn't make girl-related contingency plans. Including names, since she didn't find out gender until I showed up and was convinced she Just Knew.

What makes for good parenting is the equivalent of going "okay, this isn't the restaurant I expected to end up at for dinner, but it's also great" as opposed to doing extensive grousing about how you wanted pizza. Some people do handle it super badly, but I don't think that makes having a preference itself wrong.
posted by Sequence at 5:42 PM on March 5 [5 favorites]


fertility rate is usually an inverse correlation with economy anyway
posted by AFABulous at 6:23 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]


fertility rate is usually an inverse correlation with economy anyway

Maybe? I mean, if you look at the chart I linked to upthread, it doesn't really show that. A prolonged drop in (small) fertility rate starting 2006 for the US doesn't really line up with the 2008 crash and the historical data doesn't show much movement with previous downturns. Historically the US cranked out a lot of babies (per capita) for a highly developed, education country. It is super nutty that France's (as a proxy for Europe in general) fertility rate has gone above the US' compared to the last 50 years where it was the opposite.
posted by GuyZero at 6:34 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]


Super nutty? My daughter is marrying a Frenchman, and is super-stoked about the mandated parental leave, universal health care, availability of childcare, and generous vacation policies in France.
posted by Miss Cellania at 6:41 PM on March 5 [9 favorites]


I'm terrified of having a baby boy because there's only one boy's name I like and I already gave it to my dog.

Indiana?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 6:43 PM on March 5 [7 favorites]


Traditionally, China was patrilineal and it was important to produce a son to carry forward the name, to the point where families which were unable to produce one biologically would essentially buy them by marrying a daughter off to a second son of a lesser family with the agreement that their sons would carry the mother's name.

I think this has mostly died out in China proper, because it's just not possible under one family one child. It might actually matter more in the diaspora now than in China proper. For example, I've known as long as I can remember that I am the only male descendant of my grandfather. I don't think most Americans track that bit of information.
posted by d. z. wang at 6:44 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


I'm terrified of having a baby boy because there's only one boy's name I like and I already gave it to my dog.

Eh, your son can go by a nickname till he's grown up. I mean, it'll still say Rover on his school records, even if the other kids call him Jimmy.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:08 PM on March 5 [4 favorites]


I wonder what kind of damage this bias does to the child when the parents don't get what they wanted, assuming the parents fundamentally love the child anyway.

it's people not wanting sons badly enough to have a large family in order to get one (or an "heir and a spare").


One of my friends is the last of a bunch of girls. Her parents, who are shitheads, have always hated her for not being a boy. Ironically, I think she's the only one who produced male heirs, so they will talk to her for the sake of having access to their favorite (or did when he was growing up anyway). But I still remember the one time i met her parents and they made a biiiiig deal about bringing "gifts" for everyone (note: the dog got the nicest gift) and they literally gave nothing to their own kid.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:21 PM on March 5 [3 favorites]


Well this thread is super interesting to me because we've had such a different experience with it. I'm a third child and my parents wanted a boy, with one of those Z names from the bible picked out. I wasn't it. They also had really strong ideas about appropriate activities based on birth gender (the bible again), so I didn't have much opportunity to explore things I was interested in or good at outside of baking and say, washing dishes. Only last year did I think I may want to have a kid from the beginning (not a foster kid or adopt, which I previously leaned towards, if any). It made me uncomfortable to discover a preference for a boy because a) I didn't want to be tempted to push a "girl" to do all the "boy" things I wasn't able to (math! spears! leadership!) and b) the chance of them being sexually harassed or raped is lower. I'm not thinking about a kid at the moment, so it's a moot point, but I feel better about the topic if I approach it again knowing that I rarely experience love as predicted and it's always bigger than I imagine.
posted by perrouno at 9:16 PM on March 5


I'm pretty sure my parents would have kept on trying. My mother loved everything about babies and having babies and being pregnant. And Dad really wanted that son, and they both came from big families. Mom probably would have gone on having babies for years, but the doctor told them the next one could kill her (I could have; hope pregnancy with me worsened her preexisting health problems, which they warned her about beforehand but she didn't feel abortion was an option for her).
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:07 PM on March 5


Then there's the issue of maternal grandparents usually being closer to the grandkids.

This is something I've thought about a lot, and there's actually a lot here to unpack. My son is a lot closer to my parents (his maternal grandparents) even though they live across the Atlantic, while his paternal grandparents live 45 min away. It's because, although I work more than my husband and therefore spend less time with our son, I do more emotional labor, and when I send pictures or give updates or call just so my son can chat with Grammy, I'm doing it all (or mostly) for my own family. My husband is responsible for the emotional labor involving his own family, and so they don't get nearly the amount of grandkid-related news or time that my own family does.

Now I'm pretty sure my son is going to be an only child, and many times I've thought, with a tinge of sadness, that if he ever has children in the future, I probably won't be as close to them as their other set of grandparents. UNLESS I raise him to do emotional labor and care about things like interfamilial relationships, and do everything I can to ensure that he and his future partner both shoulder the burden equally.

And be a better mother-in-law, of course.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 1:23 AM on March 6 [12 favorites]


I never felt it was a good idea to let myself have any marked preference over something that was a random 50/50 shot whether I liked it or not. That’s offering Fate your unguarded chin.
posted by Segundus at 5:31 AM on March 6 [3 favorites]


"I have one of each and people frequently go out of their way to comment that I must be done, how perfect, I'm so lucky, etc. I would actually love to have more kids if it was something we could afford, so every time I hear that it's kind of a bummer."

Yeah, we had two boys, and then a girl, and the number of people who say things like, "Well you finally got your girl! Now you can stop!" creeps me out. That's not why I had a third, and that's not why I'm done having kids. But everyone, all the time!, "You got your girl."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:45 AM on March 6 [7 favorites]


I'm pretty sure my parents would have kept on trying. My mother loved everything about babies and having babies and being pregnant. And Dad really wanted that son, and they both came from big families. Mom probably would have gone on having babies for years, but the doctor told them the next one could kill her (I could have; hope pregnancy with me worsened her preexisting health problems, which they warned her about beforehand but she didn't feel abortion was an option for her).

The Aztecs considered death in childbirth as honorable as death in battle - because childbirth was that hazardous for most of human history. It wasn't just "trying for a son," it was lack of effective, safe, woman-controlled contraceptives and abortions, so many women didn't have the option of "no more kids because my life is at risk."

Another reason for smaller families is that being a stay-home parent is a risky gamble as divorce is so common, and even with child support, a divorced stay-home parent has a drastically lowered standard of living. So most moms invest in their careers or at least jobs, and, unless Grandma is willing to work as a nanny for free, that means big bucks spent on some kind of childcare, which means one or two kids. With two kids, you pretty much have to like it or lump it with regards to your child(ren)'s gender.

I think that small families are a driver for gender equality in many ways, not least because more resources to go around = fewer girls being shortchanged in favor of their brothers as far as education, extracurriculars, time and attention are concerned.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:05 AM on March 6 [8 favorites]


My dad was super conservative in every aspect, and he had very conservative opinions on what girls and women could and should do. Nursing and secretary work was fine until you got married and then you should be a homemaker. And he really wanted a son. But he kept on getting girls, until my ten year younger brother was finally born. And in those ten years, he paradoxically did all the boy things he had been looking forward to doing with his imaginary son with me, never my sisters. I still have the knife he gave me when I was seven, and the many maps he gave me for when I was at my grandparents and he hoped I would go tracking on my own in the national park near their farm (yes I did). We went to other parks together and military grounds and rode tanks, climbed trees and cleaned bush, and he taught me math and measuring and knots and scouting. Then he was very worried and disappointed when I studied architecture instead of nursing. There are many other things in my life that have been more traumatic than this, but I still often meet people that have opinions about my gender normativeness. No big deal, really.
posted by mumimor at 2:24 PM on March 6 [2 favorites]


I mean, I WAS disappointed when the ultrasound confirmed that our youngest was a boy. And then I was disappointed with myself for being disappointed.

Thing is, I really wanted our daughter to have a sister. I was an only child but all my girl-friends had sisters. Oodles of sisters. Big sisters, little sisters, all the sisters. And I really really really wanted one. I wanted my children to be close throughout their lives and I had hoped that sharing the challenges of being female would help that along. It's misguided, probably, but it was a very very real feeling when I was expecting our son.

My husband took exception to everyone congratulating HIM for "getting a boy" when his actual preference would also have been for two daughters. Now, of course, we wouldn't trade our amazing son for anything, but that's a trite thing to say. I'm still intimidated by the challenge of raising a feminist son. I'm still intimidated by the friends he will make and the influence they will have on him. I'm still intimidated by the pitfalls of male privilege he will have to hopefully dodge.

Raising good humans is hard, is all.
posted by lydhre at 7:40 AM on March 7 [4 favorites]


Our eldest was a boy (well, per plumbing at least, and at 20 hasn't shown any other signs), and we thought it would be neat to have a girl as well, but our second was also a boy (ditto, though 11). We shrugged our shoulders and moved on. We're done now, so no daughters in our future; the challenges and joys in raising these two have been more than enough for us, so we're not likely to ever adopt.
posted by Four Ds at 8:49 AM on March 7


Today I was in the Value Village. A woman spent what felt like 15 minutes - but was probably a solid 5 - saying to whichever worker she could grab, "How do you decide which pants are for girls and which are for boys? Because these pants were in the girls' section, and I'm pretty sure they're boys' pants. My boy wears pants just like this." And then the worker would try an explanation, or mumble something, and she would say the same thing over again. And again. A manager got pulled in at one point to offer her thoughts about the pants.

It seemed very important to her that the Value Village workers knew that she was buying boys' pants for her boy, not girls' pants. I came close to interjecting, "If your boy likes to wear those pants, why not just buy them? Why does it matter which section they're in?"
posted by clawsoon at 4:55 PM on March 7 [5 favorites]


clawsoon's story reminded me of how when people were giving my sister baby clothes for her son, other relatives would comment on how she could give them to me and my other sister "if you have a boy". Like god forbid I have a baby assigned female at birth and she wears navy sweatpants or a shirt with a soccer ball on it! What could happen?? Won't someone think of the genders!!
posted by Emmy Rae at 8:12 AM on March 8 [4 favorites]


People have very specific ideas about gender performance in general and especially in babies. I am merely OK in terms of how woke I am to gender identity but even I realize that a girl wearing "boys" pants made for a 6-month-old is just not going to matter. My daughter wore lot of my son's hand me downs and nothing happened.

OK, she's super woke and dyes her hair every colour of the rainbow and says she's a communist and wants to smash the patriarchy so you know, maybe they're right and I'm wrong here.
posted by GuyZero at 11:19 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


I am a woman who was scared to have a daughter, mostly because I don't know how to some stereotypically female things (makeup, what?). I had a son and was secretly relieved. Then he was diagnosed with a genetic disorder that, amongst lots of scary things, makes pregnancy a life-threatening condition for girls who are lucky enough to grow up and start families of their own. I was super relieved that he won't have to face that. And now I wonder, is this a thing that parents across the world and across time have also thought? "Thank goodness you are a boy so I will not see you someday die in childbirth?" The biological deck still seems incredibly stacked against women.
posted by Maarika at 6:31 AM on March 10


I’ve got three girls. I was a geeky tomboy, and my oldest went through a 2-year phase of what I can only describe as extreme floofiness. She’d beg to wear a ball gown every day. Now at six she just wants to wear black pants and a band tee every day. Honestly, the dresses were easier, because she’s got a 2 year old’s circumference and a 7 year old’s height. Kids adjust and so do you.
posted by snickerdoodle at 9:11 AM on March 10


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