Sorry for the inflammatory title.  But it’s true.  Well, at least recent data examined by Enrico Moretti, a Professor of Economics at University of California, Berkely, suggests it is.

Dr. Moretti recently appeared on a Freakonomics Radio Podcast to present his conclusions.

The question posed by one listener was rather simple: “In marriages where a baby boy is born, is there less chance of the husband leaving the marriage?”

And the rather simple question had a rather simple answer – yes.  But then, Moretti continued:  “Parents who have first-born girls are significantly more likely to be divorced. And so parents who have first-born boys are significantly more likely to stay together.”

Moretti authored a research paper along with the economic Gordon Dahl called “The Demand for Sons” in which they analyzed U.S. census data from 1960 to 2000, along with other data, to measure the effect of a firstborn child’s gender on marital stability.

ID-10097404  (Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.)

Moretti and Dahl found the effect of gender on the stability of a marriage fairly significant – divorce where there is a first born boy is about 3.1 percent lower probability of a father for families with a first born girl.  They estimate that over a 10-year period, that accounts for about 50,000 first-born daughters who are living without their father.

In typical economist fashion, however, Moretti and Dahl are here to present the data, not tell us why the data exists; but they attempt to offer three fundamental explanations:

  1. Parents are gender biased. Parents have a preference for boys over girls. And so when they learn they’re going to have a boy that makes them happier and keeps the family intact at least more than when they learn they have a daughter.
  2. Moretti suggested that it is also possible that parents are not gender biased. Parents may realize that having a father might be relatively more important for boys than for girls, either because fathers play an important role model for the boys, or because fathers might have some other type of comparative advantage in raising boys versus girls.
  3. The final explanation is no gender preference, but parents might realize that girls are more costly to raise than boys in terms of time and or monetary expenses.  Moretti makes clear that this is not actually supported by the data, but it may at least be the perception.

Regardless of the reasons, however, Moretti suggests that the effects of this outcome are staggering: “For children and families with an absentee father due to a firstborn daughter, family income is reduced by about 50 percent and poverty rates are increased by about 30 percent.”

When Moretti was asked for a solution, he did not offer many suggestions, because none may exist – at least at this point:

These are deep-seated cultural norms and values. They don’t seem to be going away over time. It’s pretty clear that being born in a broken family has long-lasting economic consequences, and I think maybe that’s where we should focus our energies. I’m not sure it’s feasible, or even desirable for the government to try to change in any ways people’s preferences.

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Eliana T. Baer is a frequent contributor to the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and a member of the Family Law Practice Group of Fox Rothschild LLP. Eliana practices in Fox Rothschild’s Princeton, New Jersey office and focuses her state-wide practice on representing clients on issues relating to divorce, equitable distribution, support, custody, adoption, domestic violence, premarital agreements and Appellate Practice. You can reach Eliana at (609) 895-3344, or etbaer@foxrothschild.com.

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