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Social & Policy Issues

Slight Preference for Having Boy Children Persists in U.S.

Social & Policy Issues

Slight Preference for Having Boy Children Persists in U.S.

Slight Preference for Having Boy Children Persists in U.S.

Story Highlights

  • Preference for boys over girls has averaged 11-point margin since 1941
  • Men are strong in their preference for a male child, 43% to 24%
  • Women have divided preferences: 31% want a girl; 30%, a boy

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans' long-standing tilt toward preferring a boy over a girl if they could have only one child continues. Thirty-six percent of Americans say they would want a boy and 28% a girl, with the rest -- 36% -- volunteering that it wouldn't matter or that they don't have an opinion.

Line graph: Do Americans prefer a boy or a girl child? Trend, 1941-2018. 2018: 36% prefer boy, 28% girl.

Gallup has asked this question 11 times since 1941, with an average 11-percentage-point gap in preferences for boys over girls -- ranging from a 15-point gap in 1947 and 2000 to four points in 1990. The current eight-point preference for a boy, from a June 1-13 poll, is slightly lower than the 12-point gap in Gallup's last measure, from 2011.

The 77-year-long tendency for American adults to express overall preferences for a boy over a girl is driven by the marked preference among men for a baby boy and the more closely divided preferences among women. Men, over the years of Gallup's trend, have preferred a boy over a girl by an average of 25 points, while women have averaged a slight three-point preference for a girl.

Men's preference for a boy this year remains substantial but is slightly diminished, with the 19-point gap the lowest since 1990. The largest gap among men was in 2000 -- when 55% said they would prefer a boy and 18% a girl.

Line graph: Preference for a boy or a girl child, among U.S. men, 1947-2018 trend. 2018: 43% prefer a boy, 24% a girl.

Preferences among women in the current survey are essentially tied, with 31% opting for a girl and 30% for a boy. The highest preference for a girl over a boy among women was seven points, registered in 1990 and in 1996.

Line graph: Preference for a boy or a girl child, among U.S. women, 1947-2018 trend. 2018: 30% prefer a boy, 31% a girl.

Youngest Americans Strongest in Their Preference for Boys

There is a marked age gap in preferences for a child's sex, with Americans aged 18 to 29 significantly more likely than those who are older to want a boy rather than a girl. Younger adults are also more likely than those 30 and older to express a preference for either sex.

Americans who are college graduates and those who have postgraduate education are essentially neutral in their preferences, with about the same percentages wanting a boy as wanting a girl. Those with some college and with a high school education or less have a stronger preference for a boy, including a 17-point gap among the latter group.

Preferences for Sex of Child, by Age and Education
Boy Girl Either/Doesn't matter/
Not sure/No opinion
% % %
Age
18 to 29 48 31 21
30 to 49 36 30 35
50 to 64 33 22 46
65+ 33 29 38
Education
Postgraduate 29 31 40
College graduate 32 31 36
Some college 37 28 35
High school or less 42 25 32
GALLUP, June 1-13, 2018

These same differences by age and education were evident in 2011, the last time this trend was updated.

Bottom Line

Americans' preferences for male or female children have been evident for decades, with slightly more than a third indicating they have no preference, but with those who have a choice preferring boys over girls. This "boy preference" is largely because men would rather have boys.

Some academic research has focused on the potential impact of these attitudes, exploring whether parents with only male or female children would be more likely to have additional children -- in the hopes of having a child of the other sex -- than those who already have both boys and girls.

There is mixed evidence that this is the case, however. Gallup research conducted 11 years ago asked those with a preference to explain it in their own words, and found some mentions of the existing sex composition of families as a reason. But recent studies of demographic data have shown little sign of a relationship between family composition and having more babies. A New York Times report on this research headlined, "Americans Might No Longer Prefer Sons Over Daughters," reflects the conclusion that the boy baby preference might no longer exist based on analyses of childbearing behavior.

Regardless of what studies of actual childbearing may show, the current Gallup data show that the underlying attitudinal preference for a boy over a girl, although modest, continues to be a norm in U.S. society.

As the ability to manipulate genes and create "designer babies" with specified characteristics (including sex) becomes more of a reality in the decades ahead, the desire to have children of a certain sex could become more of a direct factor in determining fertility patterns.

General attitudes toward childbearing and the ideal number of children will be explored in forthcoming Gallup reports.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 1-13, 2018, with a random sample of 1,520 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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