Mom's Future Marital Status
Equality of the sexes hasn't trickled
down to the womb, according to a University of Washington study
that found a single mother is 42 percent more likely to marry
the child's father if she has a son rather than a daughter.
Because marriage can offer a more
stable and healthier environment in which to raise children, this
is bad news for girls, says Shelly Lundberg, an economics professor
at the University of Washington and co-author of the study.
"The size of this effect was
dismaying," she says. "In the U.S. we believe there
is no gender discrimination, and there is no stark discrimination
against women. But there are dimensions, especially in the father's
behavior, in the way the household spends its money and time and
in the stability of the family where boys versus girls matters."
At a time of high divorce rates
and a large number of out-of-wedlock births, finding ways to promote
more stable families is very important, she says.
"This is a huge policy issue,"
Lundberg adds. "What does it take to preserve the family?
What is it that helps to promote stable, healthy families? Our
hope is that our work will help us develop an understanding of
what forces encourage family formation and father involvement
The results of the study, financed
in part by the National Science Foundation, appear in the May
issue of Demography.
For the study, which looked at
how a child's gender affects family formation, especially after
a premarital birth, Lundberg and her university colleague, associate
economics professor Elaina Rose, used data from the national Panel
Study of Income Dynamics to identify a sampling of 600 children
born to single mothers from 1969 to 1993. Of those, 51.7 percent
were boys, which is in line with biological expectation, Lundberg
When looking at the marital patterns
for the mothers of those children, the researchers found the effect
of gender on the rate of marriage to biological fathers was very
large. The only other significant factors affecting marriages
were that white women had a higher rate of marriage compared to
other ethnic groups and that first-time mothers married at a higher
rate than mothers with more than one child.
The mothers of 21.6 percent of
the boys married the child's father, compared to only 15.2 percent
of the mothers of girls, which translates statistically into a
42 percent higher rate of the mothers of sons eventually marrying
the father than of mothers of daughters marrying the father, Lundberg
The reasons for these effects could
be several, Lundberg says.
"There could be dynastic considerations
for the man, or the thought that a man would be more useful to
a boy and have more fun," she says. "Or a mother of
a son might feel it's more important for there to be a father
in the household, and will perhaps settle for less. We can't tell."
"It's concerning that there
is such a dramatic sex difference," says Nadine Kaslow, a
professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University
School of Medicine in Atlanta. "The upside is that women
who have sons have a pretty good chance of getting a man in the
picture and providing two parents in the home, but the depressing
part of the study is what this means for girls and for single
mothers with female children."
Overall, including marriages to
both biological fathers and to men who would be stepfathers, 56.8
percent of the single mothers of boys married, compared to 51
percent of the mothers with daughters, which translates statistically
into an 11 percent higher rate of marriage for the women with
This study is a continuation the
work that Lundberg and Rose are doing to better understand what
makes families stable in the face of today's high rates of divorce
and premarital births.
Their previous studies, for instance,
have found that fathers work about 40 hours a year more after
the birth of a son than a daughter and their hourly earnings are
higher if they have sons rather than daughters. Work by other
researchers has also found fathers are more involved in their
families' lives if they have sons rather than daughters.
This report from the
Alan Guttmacher Institute discusses the relationship between
premarital births and marriage. Detroit is the city with the highest
number of premarital births, according to the
Reference Source 101