Science

Research shows preference for male children is declining in Bangladesh

Research from the University of Kent has demonstrated a decline in ‘son preference’ by women of childbearing age in Bangladesh. However, the study also shows that fertility decisions are still influenced according to son preference.

The paper, ‘Is son preference disappearing from Bangladesh?’, surveyed a nationally representative sample of Bangladeshi women of childbearing age, born between 1975 and 1994, to assess how son preference is evolving.

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.

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.

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, Principle Investigator of the study and Reader in Economics at the University of Kent said: ‘Our research reveals a discrepancy between the child sex preferences of women in Bangladesh and their actual fertility behaviour. 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.’

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The paper ‘Is son preference disappearing from Bangladesh?’ is published in Science Direct
(Dr Zaki Wahhaj, School of Economics, University of Kent; Teresa Randazzo, Department of Economics, University of Venice; Nazia Mansoor, University of Paris-Dauphine, London; M. Niaz Asadullah, Faculty of Economics and Administration, University of Malaya).

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0305750X20304812?dgcid=author#!

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2020.105353

ENDS

For further information or interview requests, please contact Sam Wood at the University of Kent Press Office.

Tel: 01227 823581

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Notes to Editors

The University of Kent is a leading UK university producing world-class research, rated internationally excellent and leading the way in many fields of study. Our 20,000 students are based at campuses and centres in Canterbury, Medway, Brussels and Paris.

With 97% of our research judged to be of international quality in the most recent Research Assessment Framework (REF2014), our students study with some of the most influential thinkers in the world. Universities UK recently named research from the University as one of the UK’s 100 Best Breakthroughs of the last century for its significant impact on people’s everyday lives.

We are renowned for our inspirational teaching. Awarded a gold rating, the highest, in the UK Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), we were presented with the Outstanding Support for Students award at the 2018 Times Higher Education (THE) Awards for the second year running.

Our graduates are equipped for a successful future allowing them to compete effectively in the global job market. More than 95% of graduates find a job or study opportunity within six months.

The University is a truly international community with over 40% of our academics coming from outside the UK and our students representing over 150 nationalities.

We are a major economic force in south east England, supporting innovation and enterprise. We are worth £0.9 billion to the economy of the south east and support more than 9,400 jobs in the region.

In March 2018, the Government and Health Education England (HEE) announced that the joint bid by the University of Kent and Canterbury Christ Church University for funded places to establish a medical school has been successful. The first intake of undergraduates to the Kent and Medway Medical School will be in September 2020.

We are proud to be part of Canterbury, Medway and the county of Kent and, through collaboration with partners, work to ensure our global ambitions have a positive impact on the region’s academic, cultural, social and economic landscape.

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