Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Parity Progression in Australia: What Role Does Sex of Existing Children Play?

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Parity Progression in Australia: What Role Does Sex of Existing Children Play?

Article excerpt


Having additional children is commonly referred to as parity progression in demographic literature. In societies that have experienced a decline in fertility levels, parity progression rates are particularly useful for examining cohort changes in the number of children ever born. Although these demographic changes occur at the macro-level, decisions to have another child occur at the couple, or sometimes the individual level. Studies show that in low-fertility societies, sex composition of existing children is a factor in progressing to higher-order births (Bongaarts & Potter, 1983; Pollard & Morgan, 2002; Wood & Bean, 1977). We examine the impact of sex of existing children on having a second birth, and having a third birth, in the context of other factors associated with parity progression. We firstly explore sex preference in the context of modernisation: two dominant theories have been proposed, one that sex preference is more important in low-fertility societies, and second that sex preference is not important in societies that have an egalitarian gender system. We test the importance of sex preference in Australia using data from a nationally representative survey, Negotiating the Life Course. The paper provides models of birth of a second child and birth of a third child considering the sex of existing children and other factors associated with parity progression. To conclude, our discussion highlights the importance of cohort and sex of existing children in modelling parity progression.

Sex preference in Western-industrial societies

Sex preference of children is generally not considered in Western societies. Evidence from non-Western countries varies, but where sex preference is found, son preference dominates, although preference for at least one girl and one boy is common (Arnold, 1997). On the balance of probability, in societies where completed family size is high, sex preference--whether it be no sex preference, son preference, daughter preference, or a desire for a mixed-sex composition--is usually satisfied (Williamson, 1976). In comparison, in societies with low fertility, sex preference has the effect of increasing fertility. This is demonstrated by Seidl (1995), who shows that preference for a son increases completed family size (although it does not influence the sex ratio). It has been calculated that 1.94 births are needed to have a son and 2.06 births to produce a daughter (Bongaarts & Potter, 1983) which are higher than fertility rates in most Western industrial societies today.

Given the importance of parity progression in low-fertility settings, investigations of the role of sex preference on family size is gaining interest in Western countries. In summarising evidence from the US, Pollard and Morgan (2002) find consistent evidence of a preference for a 'balanced family' (or mixed-sex composition), that is, a family with at least one son and one daughter. Hank and Kohler (2000) also find support for a mixed-sex composition in many European countries, but they also find some countries with a girl preference. For example, in Denmark there is a preference for a balanced composition, but also a mild girl preference in families with two same-sex children (Jacobsen, Moller & Engholm, 1999).

Studies in Western countries that focus on the sex preference of the first child (or where hypothetically a person is given the choice of choosing the sex of a child if they were to only have one child) find that there is a son preference (see Marleau & Saucier 2002 for overview). These studies tend to be based on college samples that have not entered the childbearing stage of their lifecycle. Studies that focus on pregnant women generally find the opposite--that there is a daughter preference--although there are fewer of these studies (Marleau & Saucier, 2002).

This contrast between boy and girl preference for a first child, and a mixed composition for a completed family, highlights an important measurement issue. …

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