Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Sex Composition of Children and Marital Disruption in India

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Sex Composition of Children and Marital Disruption in India

Article excerpt

Although it has been suggested that parents of sons are less likely than parents of daughters to divorce, few studies have explored this relationship in societies characterized by a strong preference for sons, where such an effect should be most pronounced. Using data from 116,498 once-married female respondents to the 1992-1993 and 1998-1999 Indian National Family Health Surveys, we found that at lower parities, having at least one son is associated with a significantly lower risk of divorce or separation. Moreover, with few exceptions, the effect of children's sex composition on the risk of divorce holds for subgroups of Indian women across categories of education, religion, location (urban vs. rural), caste, cohort, and region.

Key Words: children, divorce, gender, India, sex preferences.

Hailed as one of the most interesting findings from research on the determinants of divorce during the 1980s (White, 1990), Morgan, Lye, and Condran (1988) showed that in the United States, parents of sons are less likely than parents of daughters to dissolve their marriage. Morgan et al. interpreted this finding by arguing that greater father involvement in raising a son lowers the risk of marital disruption in these families. More recent studies question the strength and generality of the effect of children's sex composition on divorce in developed countries (Andersson & Woldemicael, 2001; Diekmann & Schmidheiny, 2002), but few studies have explored this association in less developed countries where a strong preference for sons often predominates. Although the father involvement hypothesis may be a plausible explanation for the lower divorce rate among parents with sons in developed countries, it likely provides only a partial explanation of the influence of children's sex composition on marital stability in developing countries. In these contexts, a stronger explanation incorporates economic and cultural practices that, in myriad ways, reflect and foster a preference for male children. Indeed, if the sex composition of children affects marital stability at all, one would expect this effect to be strongest, or perhaps only evident, in societies in which sons are more valued over daughters.

In this analysis we explore the relationship between children's sex composition and marital disruption in India, a society historically characterized by a strong preference for male children (Arnold, 2001; Clark, 2000; Das Gupta, 1998; Miller, 1981; Philip & Bagchi, 1995). Using both Indian National Family Health Surveys, we not only examine the effects of children's sex composition on the risk of divorce, we also investigate whether this relationship varies by key social, demographic, and geographic characteristics that ostensibly tap varying preferences for sons over daughters.

THEORETICAL BACKGROUND

As one critical form of marital-specific capital (Becker, 1981), children have long been considered a deterrent to divorce, although the precise nature of the effect varies by the age of children and by parents' stage in the marital life course (Waite & Lillard, 1991), and by whether the children are products of a spouse's prior marriage (White & Booth, 1985). Until fairly recently, however, little research explored the effect of the sex composition of children on marital disruption. There are two broad sets of reasons why children's sex composition might influence marital stability. The first-the father involvement hypothesis-is advanced by Morgan et al. (1988). According to this hypothesis, because parents attempt to recreate their gender differentiation in their offspring, fathers play a greater role in raising sons than daughters (Harris & Morgan, 1991). Fathers act as role models for their sons and take an active part in teaching and disciplining sons. Their greater role in socializing sons increases their maritalspecific capital in families with sons, compared with those with daughters. …

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