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Baby boy blues

(Global Times)    09:23, May 28, 2015
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Study finds financial pressure spoils joy of having a son

A new research shows parents who have daughters are generally happier than those who have sons, overturning the traditional Chinese belief that sons help improve the happiness of a family, and calling into question the widespread preference for male children.

Parents who have sons are significantly less happy than those who have daughters when their children are aged between 17 and 30, according to the research conducted by Lu Fangwen, an associate professor at the School of Economics of the Renmin University of China and Liu Guoen, a professor at the National School of Development of Peking University.

Real estate, real worry

The difference in levels of happiness between those who have sons and those who have daughters is particularly great when their children are between 24 and 30 years old, the traditional age when people look to get married.

Lu told the Global Times that this is because in the Chinese tradition, males are responsible for buying a home before marriage.

Skyrocketing property prices have put incredible pressure on young men and their families to meet this expectation. The research found that the difference in happiness is strongest for families in urban areas, where housing is the most expensive commodity.

"Before China's opening up (in the early 1980s), Chinese society was full of rural communities which relied heavily on family networks. In order to maintain the network, a family needed male babies to probate the family surname. Also, sons were the ones who worked and were the source of family income, so the gender of the child would decide the accumulation of a family is wealthy," Lu said.

"However, for more than 30 years China has been suffering from a sex-ratio imbalance, with males outnumbering females, resulting in a competitive marriage market. If men want to get married in modern society, their family must pay more. Therefore, buying homes has become a burden to the parents of sons, while those with daughters would feel relatively relaxed," Lu added.

There were 115.88 boys born for every 100 girls in 2014, and the normal ratio recommended by the United Nations is between 103 to 107 boys for every 100 girls, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Yuan Xin, a professor with the Institute of Population and Development at Nankai University, pointed out that men who want to get married in Chinese society will also need to have a better education and job position to attract females, resulting in pressure on both sons and their parents.

Apart from the finding that sons reduce parents' happiness during their 20's, the research also finds that sons reduce parents' happiness when parents are over 50 years old.

The traditional norm of sons looking after parents during their old age no longer exists in modern society. The researchers found that the probability of respondents living together with their sons is similar to that of those living with daughters.

"In the past, Chinese culture stemming from Confucius suggested the eldest son should look after the parents. In modern society, elderly parents enjoy social benefits, in other words, elderly parents are looked after by society instead of their own children nowadays," Yuan explained.

Generation gap

Sina News launched an online survey in May on the same topic and asked Net users whether they agree that parents who have daughters are happier than those who have sons.

At least 16,000 netizens participated and more than 60 percent said they think that having daughters leads to more happiness than having sons, 11 percent disagreed and 25 percent said the sex of a child does not make a difference.

Meanwhile, the Global Times talked to several families in Beijing about the findings and many parents who were born after the 80s believed that the sex of a child does not make a difference to parents' happiness.

A 23-year-old mother of a daughter told the Global Times that men nowadays do not necessarily have to own property in order to get married. She said that women often are willing to work hard together with their husbands to earn money to buy a house.

Professor Yuan said that people born in the 1920s and 30s most strongly value having a son, but that preference has faded over time, with those born after 1980 less influenced by traditional values, due to their higher level of education and the influence of Western culture.

He said that as the status of women rises, and more women go into work, people's values will continue to change and the sex of a child will be less important to people's happiness.

Lu cited figures from 2010 that show the sex ratio of children between 0 and 4 years old is 119 boys to 100 girls, which indicates that a preference for sons still exists. She said the government should focus more on correcting the problem of sex imbalance, and she hoped that the research could change people's traditional ideas.

Interestingly, the research found the sex of their child has no effect on parents' happiness when the children are younger than 17.

Lu and Liu used data provided by the Chinese General Social Survey of 2008, the only year that has a full set of information about families including the year the children were born, respondents' age, education level, income level, health and the areas they lived.

They analyzed 4,309 families from more than 70 prefecture-level cities. Among the recipients, half of them said their firstborn child is son. About 47 percent of the respondents were male. The average age was 46 and about 60 percent of the families lived in urban areas.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Zhang Yuan,Gao Yinan)

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