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Comparative research on the preferred sex of children in Western societies has generally focused on women only and ignored the role of gender equity and the need for children's economic support in old age. A multilevel analysis extends existing research by examining, for both men and women and across 24 European countries, the effect of the preferred sex-composition of offspring on whether parents have or intend to have a third child. Using the European Social Survey (2004/5), a multilevel (random coefficient) ordered logit regression of that intention (N = 3,323) and a binary logistic multilevel model of the transition to a third child (N = 6,502) demonstrate the presence of a mixed-sex preference. In countries with a high risk of poverty in old age, a preference for sons is found, particularly for men. In societies where there is lower gender equity, both men and women have a significant preference for boys.

Original publication




Journal article


Popul Stud (Camb)

Publication Date





77 - 95


Adult, Europe, Family Characteristics, Female, Gender Identity, Humans, Male, Middle Aged, Sex Factors, Sex Preselection, Sex Ratio, Socioeconomic Factors, Young Adult