Preference for sons declining in Bangladesh: Study

Delighted! Three schoolgirls return home carrying new text books from Jogendra Dewanpara Government Primary School on the second day of National Textbook Festival amid coronavirus pandemic. This picture was taken from Monghor area of Chittagong Hill Tracts district of Rangamati on 2 January 2021.
Supriyo Chakma

The ‘son preference’ by women of childbearing age is declining in Bangladesh but fertility decisions are still influenced according to son preference, a study says.

The term ‘son preference’ refers to any situation where parents value sons over daughters and make resulting choices accordingly, which can have a strong economic and demographic impact, it added.

The study, published in Science Direct, surveyed a nationally representative sample of Bangladeshi women of childbearing age, born between 1975 and 1994, to assess how son preference is evolving, said a press release issued by University of Kent, UK on 22 January.

The study finds that among women of childbearing age in Bangladesh, son preference is giving way to a desire for gender balance, a consequence of increased female education and employment.

However, in contrast to these stated fertility preferences, actual fertility decisions are still shaped by son preference.

Dr Zaki Wahhaj, principle investigator of the study and Reader in Economics at University of Kent said, ‘Our research reveals a discrepancy between the child sex preferences of women in Bangladesh and their actual fertility behaviour.”

Among those 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 have profound economic and demographic consequences 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.

The study also 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.

However, survival analysis 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, said, “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.’

Other authors of the research article ‘Is son preference disappearing from Bangladesh?’ are Teresa Randazzo of Department of Economics at University of Venice, Nazia Mansoor of University of Paris-Dauphine, London and M Niaz Asadullah of Economics and Administration at University of Malaya.