Son Preference in India: Shedding Light on the North-South Gradient


  • Daniela Klaus German Centre of Gerontology, Berlin
  • Arun Tipandjan International Center for Psychological Counseling & Social Research, India



Son preference, India, Value of children, Kinship regime, Dowry


Son preference is widespread in India and deep-rooted in its history. It is a matter of concern because it produces an imbalanced juvenile sex ratio. There are far fewer girls than boys. The figures vary greatly among the Indian states suggesting a major north-south gradient in son preference accompanied by a minor west-east gradient. The aim of this paper is to explain the regional pattern. We provide an application of the value of children-approach according to which the decision to have children is made on the calculus of benefits and costs related to children. In the light of the socioeconomic and sociocultural background in India, we propose that (potential) parents’ expectations of benefits and costs are biased in favour of sons. This is suggested, therefore, as the key motivation for the preference for male offspring. However, region-specifics in the level of affluence, the educational level, the mode of production, the meaning and importance of religion, and the kinship regime are assumed to produce stronger son preference in north India compared to south India. This mediation-model is tested using the Indian sub-sample of the international Value of Children-study. Data were collected in Uttar Pradesh (north-central India) and Puducherry (south-east India). Mothers aged 16 to 65 were interviewed in 2002 and 2010. Based on 1,173 respondents, a structural equation model was carried out to test the hypothesised composition effects related to the region and the mediating position of sex-specific benefits and costs. Initial findings confirm that the national son preference pattern is more likely to be found among north Indian mothers than south Indian mothers. As assumed, the sex-specific balance of benefits and costs contributes to the explanation of son preference. However, there is little evidence that the benefits and costs mediate between the region-specific socioeconomic and sociocultural profiles and son preference. Son preference is most pronounced among mothers of the north-urban sample after controlling for region-specific distributions of socioeconomic and sociocultural background variables. Variations in son preference across the regional sub-samples are partly explained by the respective background variables and the benefit and cost-structure. But independent regional effects continue to be significant and thus, a considerable part of the north-south gradient remains unclear.




How to Cite

Klaus, D. and Tipandjan, A. 2014. Son Preference in India: Shedding Light on the North-South Gradient. Comparative Population Studies. 40, 1 (Dec. 2014). DOI:



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