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Parental sex-preferences in South Africa: culture and family composition
Authors: Michel Garenne and Nancy Stiegler
Source: Journal of Population Research, Volume 40, Article 23; DOI:
Topic(s): Ethnicity
Son preference
Country: Africa
  South Africa
Published: SEP 2023
Abstract: The study investigates parental sex-preferences for children in South Africa, using answers to the 2016 DHS survey. Some 8514 women and 3618 men were asked about the ideal composition of their family. Results show major differences between women and men: women were more often indifferent (11.9% vs. 9.9%), equalitarian, i.e. preferring the same number of boys and girls (53.1% vs. 43.1%) or preferring more girls (16.7% vs. 8.4%) than men, while men were more likely to prefer more boys (37.6% vs. 18.3%). The relative preference for girls was therefore 4.1 larger for women than for men. Several socio-economic factors were investigated: urban residence, level of education, household wealth, and exposure to media, but had hardly any impact on sex-preferences. In contrast, cultural and ethnic factors were strong. White/European groups had higher preference for boys, while Black/African groups showed virtually no differential preference between boys and girls, like in nearby southern African countries. Some minor differences could be noted among ethnic groups, in particular among Zulus and Xhosas. At ethnic level, nuptiality, in particular polygyny, and household structure showed a correlation with sex-preferences. Lastly, current family composition had an effect on stated preferences, showing that on average men and women were rather satisfied with the sex-composition of their family.