Son Preference

last updated August 2019

The harmful preference for male children is prevalent around the world. Multiple factors—from dowries to discriminatory inheritance laws—help to drive harmful practices such as female infanticide, deliberate neglect, and abandonment. In a joint statement, the OHCHR, UNFPA, UNICEF, UN Women, and WHO stated that “sex selection in favour of boys is a symptom of pervasive social, cultural, political and economic injustices against women, and a manifest violation of women’s human rights.”[1] Gender ratios in countries with higher rates of son preference, sex rations tend to be “significantly skewed” and associated “with increases in other forms of gender violence such as rape and forced marriage.”[2]


The prevalence of son preferences worldwide can be measured in a number of ways. The first is through expressed attitudes. One study asked healthcare providers in Pakistan about why they felt their patients preferred to have sons over daughters. The study noted:

There was a unanimous response that women were happy and their faces lit up when they heard that the fetus was male. In lower classes, mothers were treated better by their families when they were carrying a male baby: they were provided special care, good nutrition and rest. One the other hand, when they were informed the fetus was female, a respondent reported women asked that the ultrasound be repeated to make sure. If they already had two or three daughters, they sometimes started crying. The unhappiness and depression was attributed by respondents to pressure from in-laws and relatives who are displeased and behave poorly with women when they conceive a girl. It was mentioned that sometimes women are even divorced for bearing daughters.[3]

Notably, while son preference and resulting disparities in sex ratios are most apparent in South Asia, son preference is not unique to the region. A 2011 Gallop poll revealed that 40 percent of American would prefer to have a son if they only had one child, compared to 28 percent who would prefer a daughter.[4] Further, the poll compared its results to one conducted in 1941 where 38 percent said they would prefer to have a son, compared to 24 percent who would prefer a daughter. However, recent evidence indicates that these attitudes may be changing in the U.S.[5]

Another way to measure son preference is to evaluate a country’s sex ratio at birth. Absent outside intervention, the sex ratio at birth is between 102–106 boys for every 100 girls. However, pre-conception sex-selection and sex-selective abortions have drastically altered this ratio in several states. As of 2015, the top ten countries with the greatest disparities between the numbers of boys born for every 100 girls are:

  • China: 115.9
  • Azerbaijan: 115.6
  • Armenia: 114
  • Vietnam: 112.2
  • Macedonia: 110.4
  • India: 110
  • Albania: 109
  • Montenegro: 109
  • Georgia: 108
  • Singapore: 107[6]


[1] OHCHR, UNFPA, UNICEF, UN Women, & WHO, Preventing Gender-Biased Sex Selection 4 (2011).

[2] Son Preference/Female Infanticide/Sex-selective Abortions, End VAW Now (Jan. 27, 2011),

[3] Zeba A. Sathar et al, Evidence of Son Preference and Resulting Demographic and Health Outcomes in Pakistan13–14 (2015).

[4] Frank Newport, Americans Prefer Boys to Girls, Just as they Did in 1941, Gallop (June 23, 2011),

[5] Claire Cain Miller, American Might No Longer Prefer Sons Over Daughters, N.Y. Times (Mar. 5, 2018),

[6] Gender-Biased Sex Selection, UNFPA , (last visited Jan. 4, 2019).


In This Section