Americans Continue to Express Slight Preference for Boys

by Frank Newport

Little changed since 1941

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Given a choice of the gender of a hypothetical only child, Americans continue to have a slight preference for a boy rather than a girl, an attitude that has changed little in 66 years of Gallup polling on the subject. Asked to justify their preference for a boy, Americans say it is because men relate better to boys, boys can carry on the family name, and boys are easier to raise. Asked to justify their preference for a girl, Americans say it is because women (mothers) can relate better to girls, the family already has girls and wants more, and girls are easier to raise.

Basic Data and Trends

First asked in 1941 in a slightly different formulation, the Gallup gender preference question is: "Suppose you could only have one child. Would you prefer that it be a boy or a girl?" The question does not explicitly ask respondents if they have no preference, but 35% of Americans in Gallup's most recent poll volunteer that the gender of an only child wouldn't matter or that they are not sure or have no opinion. Of the 65% who made a choice, 37% express preference for a boy, while 28% express preference for a girl -- yielding a nine percentage point "gender gap" in favor of a male child.

There have been some fluctuations over the nine times Gallup has asked this question since March 1941, but the basic pattern has not changed meaningfully. Indeed, the responses in 1941 -- 38% preference for a boy, 24% preference for a girl, 38% no preference -- are remarkably similar to those obtained this year, almost two-thirds of a century later.

At no point in the history of the asking of this question has there been a plurality preference for a girl, although in 1990 the male preference gap was only four percentage points. The widest gap -- 15-percentage point difference -- came in 1947 and again in 2000.

An underlying dynamic in which men strongly prefer a boy drives the preference for a male child, while women do not have a correspondingly strong preference for a girl. This pattern appears to be quite stable, and has been evident in each of the three surveys since December 2000 in which this question was asked.

Suppose you could only have one child. Would you prefer that it be a boy or a girl?

Boy

Girl

No preference/
Don't know

Net "boy"
preference

Jun 11-14, 2007

%

%

%

%

Men

45

21

27

+24

Women

31

35

25

-4

Jul 18-20, 2003

 

 

 

 

Men

45

19

29

+26

Women

32

36

26

-4

Dec 2-4, 2000

 

 

 

 

Men

55

18

21

+37

Women

32

35

28

-3

In each of these polls, the preference gap among men for a having a boy rather than a girl child has been greater than 20 percentage points, and in 2000, there was an especially large 37 percentage points difference. Concomitantly, across all three of these polls, women have expressed just a very slight (but not statistically significant) preference for a girl over a boy if they could have only one child.

There also appears to be an age factor related to these attitudes, although perhaps not in the direction that one might expect. Men in both age groups (18- to 49-years-olds and 50 and older) have a strong preference for a boy, although the male preference gap was higher among 18- to 49-year-old men in the 2000 and 2003 surveys than it was this year. Women aged 50 and older are more likely than younger women to have the strongest preference for a girl baby. Women 18- to 49-years-old across all three surveys essentially break even in their preferences.

Suppose you could only have one child. Would you prefer that it be a boy or a girl?

Boy

Girl

No preference/
Don't know

Net "boy"
preference

Jun 11-14, 2007

%

%

%

%

Men 18-49

43

25

26

+18

Men 50+

47

17

27

+30

Women 18-49

35

35

23

0

Women 50+

25

36

28

-11

Jul 18-20, 2003

 

 

 

 

Men 18-49

49

21

23

+28

Men 50+

39

17

38

+22

Women 18-49

38

36

23

+2

Women 50+

25

35

31

-10

Dec 2-4, 2000

 

 

 

 

Men 18-49

58

22

18

+36

Men 50+

48

13

27

+35

Women 18-49

35

35

25

0

Women 50+

27

35

31

-8

What's Behind These Attitudes?

Although slight, there are several explanations as to why people would prefer a boy rather than a girl if they could only have one child. These range from theories based on the evolutionary advantage afforded by having male rather than female offspring to those based on cultural theories of sexism and the continuing dominance of a male ruling class.

The Gallup Panel study conducted June 25-28, 2007, includes questions that provide answers from the perspective of the people themselves. Each respondent who expressed a preference for a boy or a girl was asked to explain his or her choice in his or her own words.

Here are the categorized responses of those who expressed a preference for a boy rather than a girl:            

(Asked of those who say they would prefer to have a boy if they could only have one child) Why would you prefer to have a boy? [OPEN-ENDED]

BASED ON 341 ADULTS WHO SAY THEY WOULD PREFER TO HAVE A BOY IF THEY COULD ONLY HAVE ONE CHILD

 

2007 Jun 25-28

%

Men can relate to males better/have more in common

23

To carry on the family name

20

Boys are easier to raise

17

Respondent already has a girl/girls

9

Girls too emotionally and physically weak

5

Prefer to have a boy/Want a boy

5

Respondent already have a boy/boys

5

Boys have a better chance out in the big world

4

Don't have to worry about pregnancy

3

Girls are high maintenance/more expensive to raise

2

 

Other

6

NO REASON IN PARTICULAR (vol.)

3

Don't know/Refused

4


Percentages add to more than 100% due to multiple responses.
(vol.) = Volunteered response

It is clear that there is no one, dominant explanation behind the preference for having a boy. The most frequently occurring explanation is a variant on the thought that men relate better to males. This explanation was much more likely to be offered by men with a male-child preference than women, suggesting -- as the data reviewed above indicate -- that part of the preference for a boy is based on the fact that men prefer children of their own gender.

One in five of those who prefer a boy say it is because the male carries on the family name. Men and women with a male-child preference are about equally likely to say this. Seventeen percent say it is because boys are easier than girls to raise.

Several of the categories reflect more negative attitudes toward females about raising girls, including the perception that girls are emotionally and physically weak and that girls are "high maintenance."               

(Asked of those who say they would prefer to have a girl if they could only have one child) Why would you prefer to have a girl? [OPEN-ENDED]

BASED ON 221 ADULTS WHO SAY THEY WOULD PREFER TO HAVE A GIRL IF THEY COULD ONLY HAVE ONE CHILD

 

2007 Jun 25-28

%

Mothers can relate/have a closer relationship with daughters

20

Already have girl/girls

17

Girls are easier to raise

14

Already have a boy/boys

9

Prefer to have a girl/Want a girl

8

Girls are pretty/can dress them up/buy them nice things

6

Girls are strong and independent

5

Girls carry stronger family bonds

4

Daddy's little girl/Girls and fathers have special bond

3

The world is kinder to girls/women

3

 

Other

8

NO REASON IN PARTICULAR (vol.)

4

Don't know/Refused

4


Percentages add to more than 100% due to multiple responses.
(vol.) = Volunteered response

Those who prefer a girl reflect some of the same sentiments in reverse of those who prefer a boy. One in five say they prefer a girl because girls are better for their mothers. Other explanations are based on the existing composition of the respondents' families (even though the question asks a hypothetical question about having an only child). In contrast to the 17% who prefer a boy because they are easier to raise, 14% of those who prefer a girl say it is because girls are easier to raise.

There are also several categories of respondents which speak to the positives of having a girl, including the perception that girls are pretty and the parent can "dress them up/buy them nice things," that girls are strong and independent, that girls carry stronger family bonds, and that the world is kinder to girls.

If there is one response that may help explain the slight advantage boys have in overall preferences, it appears to be their traditional role in family lineage. Although about equal numbers of those choosing boys and girls cite bonding with the parent of the same gender and ease of child rearing, 20% of those preferring boys, but none of those preferring girls, cite boys' ability to carry on the family name.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,007 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 11-14, 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Results for this Gallup Panel study are based on telephone interviews with 1,014 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 25-28, 2007. Respondents were drawn from Gallup's household panel, which was originally recruited through random selection methods. The final sample is weighted so it is representative of U.S. adults nationwide. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 341 adults who would prefer to have a boy if they could only have one child, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±6 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 221 adults who would prefer to have a girl if they could only have one child, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±8 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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