Boy or girl? Birth preference and gender equality | Inquirer Opinion
Commentary

Boy or girl? Birth preference and gender equality

Gender equality indicates social progress, but understanding its specific social context is crucial in order to grasp its essence. For example, Sweden is often ranked in the top 5 of gender-equal countries, yet there is a little-known fact about Sweden: Parents prefer to give birth to female children than males, according to a study.

A 2018 study by Vitor Miranda et. al. (”Parents’ Preferences for Sex of Children in Sweden: Attitudes and Outcomes”) attributes this to the Swedish context that is based on individualism and a generous welfare system.

In many parts of the world, male children are seen as income generators of the family, while girls are regarded as domestic labor supply for the household. The dynamics of birth preferences change according to social context. In Sweden, the main factors include opportunities to education, access to labor markets, and available social safety nets. Thus, preference for a child’s sex shifts from reasons of monetary practicalities to individual considerations.

The Miranda et. al. study pointed out the outcomes of scholarly studies that demonstrate the preference for girls over boys across Scandinavian countries with strong gender equality policies, particularly Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, though not Finland. In Sweden, the strong desire to have a daughter by hopeful parents across generations was based on birth histories, reproductive attitudes, and direct statements. This was observed in the 1980s and 1990s and has only intensified in magnitude and scope over the following decades. Remarkably, a related study by Mussino et. al. (“Changes in Sex Ratio at Birth Among Immigrant Groups in Sweden”) revealed that preference for sons is still apparent among immigrant groups in Sweden. Overall, boys outnumber girls in Sweden. In 2017, the Statistics Sweden registered 59,000 live births of males and 56,000 live births of females in a population of 5,083,000 men and 5,038,000 women.

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The Miranda et. al. study linked its findings to the continued progress of gender revolution in Scandinavia, where women are given greater opportunities to develop their potential as actors in the public sphere. It underscored that daughters are deemed more valuable to parents in terms of socially desirable traits, including wage-earning and dutiful caring.

Hans Lemoine, a slöjd (crafts) teacher in Sweden, noted that girls in his classes are often more focused and determined to finish their projects. “More boys have a happy-go-lucky or impatient attitude than girls and need more prodding and guidance to finish their work,” he said. Lemoine explained that slöjd is a subject that inculcates independence, responsibility, curiosity, and creativity among young people in Sweden, and is part of the gender-equality framework in the education system.

In the Philippines, while preference for sons is a traditionally accepted fact, sex-selective abortion remains an overlooked research theme due to the illegality of abortion in the country, along with the moral and religious underpinnings in a predominantly Catholic country. Preference for male births coincide with demography as more boys than girls are born. The United Nations Population Division reported that male children in 2016 reached 20,159,730, while female children totaled 19,044,399. Still, despite male dominance in both birth preference and demographic count, the Philippines is a consistent top performer in Asia when it comes to closing the gender gap, according to the Global Gender Gap Report of the World Economic Forum in 2020. The country’s gender equality features are prominent in the areas of economic participation and livelihood opportunities, education, health, and life expectancy.

Putting society’s trust on women yields positive results. Boys might want to ponder or reexamine a privileged life in light of a patriarchal society and strive to be better. But then, of course, this is not a competition among sexes. How this phenomenon is played out to maximize its positive outcomes for child development necessitates the conscious participation of parents and other adults in managing the huge responsibilities at stake.

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Tess Q. Raposas is a freelance journalist based in Sweden.

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TAGS: Commentary, gender equality

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