Despite women's liberation, a large majority of parents in the United States and nearly every where still would rather have boys than girls, according to the Population Reference Bureau.
In an article in the latest issue of the bureau's Population Bulletin, Dr. Nancy Williamson surveyed studies on birth preferences of parents and came up with these findings:
In a recent U.S. study of about 1,500 young married women and 375 of their husbands, many responded they'd like one child of each sex. But "twice as many women preferred boys over girls by as much as 3 or 4 to 1."
When the women were asked why, "The most common reasons were to please their husbands, to carry on the family name and to provide a companion for the husband. Girls were desired as companions for the mother, because it was fun to dress them and fuss with their hair . . . because they were easier to raise and more obedient, because they could do housework and care for other children and because they were cuter, sweeter and not as mean."
In a 1974 publication surveying preferences of men in six developing nations, the Harvard Project on Sociocultural Aspects of Development found that hardly anyone listed girl children as first choice.
In Bangladesh, 91 per cent of those surveyed said they'd rather have a boy, only 2 per cent preferred a girl and the rest said "either." In India, 78 per cent preferred a boy, 5 per cent a girl and 17 per cent "either."
In Argentina the figures were 33 per cent preferring a boy, 3 per cent a girl and 64 per cent "either." In Chile, 56 per cent preferred a boy, 5 per cent a girl and 39 per cent "either."
Williamson reports that in many of the developing nations sons are considered a "dire economic necessity" to help in agricultural or other economic activities.
Many of these countries lack highly developed welfare systems, and parents in old age need a strong healty son to help support them. Sons are also seen as carrying on the family line.
High son-preference, Williamson writers, also reflects the historically low prestige and power of women in most societies, "A society in which almost everyone would rather have an excess of boys than an excess of girls in one in which males have more prestige and political and economic power," she says.
One "drastic ritual" used in Korea during the first 30 years of this century in an effort to induce birth of sons was to mic blue salts and musk powder "into wheat flour dough, which was then placed over the naval of a woman from whom a son was desired and cauterized with salt moxa [a flaming piece of wool, cotton or compound of leaves]. Usually two or three hundred cauteries were prescribed for sonless women . . ."
Preference for boys in some developing nations could make population control more difficult, Williamson notes, since parents who have only girls may keep trying in the hope of getting a son.
As for techniques to "preselect" the sex of a child, Williamson says that "there are no pratical and effective methods of sex control now available." That includes, she says the timing-of-intercourse method, sperm-separation techinques and selective abortion.
For a variety of reasons, she says, none of these techniques has proved effective on a large scale. "Infanticide" as a method of getting rid of unwanted girls, she notes drily, was once used in some societies, but "is now widely discouraged."
Though widespread, son-preference is not absolutely universal, Williamson says. Spanish-origin U.S. wives and women from around Manila "revealed as much underlying preference for girls as for boys."
And "five small scattered societies, from the Modugumor of New Guinea to the Tolowar Indians of northwest California, which are dominated by men . . . prefer daughters - because they work harder, bring in a bride-price and 'can be exchanged for other valued goods.'"