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Son Preference: Overview

Updated: Aug 10, 2020

What is Son Preference?


Son preference is known as gender bias, where boys have more value than girls. In many countries, women are expected to get married and bear children, preferably a boy. This phenomenon is most common in East Asian, South Asian, Middle East and North Africa. In some countries, especially China, infanticide and sex-selective abortion are often applied in order to have a son. One might argue that these thoughts aren’t that harmful to society; nevertheless, it is actually the root of many social issues to both men and women.


Why does it exist?


There are many arguments about the causes of son preference: to pay dowries for daughters, strict fertility regulation, patriarchal family systems and low female autonomy, and Confucian values. 


It is also believed that countries which develop from agrarian society historically promote son preference due to the nature of farm work. To maintain farmland, a male’s strength is preferred. Therefore, a culture that is biased towards having sons arises and continues to exist during modern times, even when globalisation and industrialization slowly prove that son preference is extremely outdated. 


In many Asian countries such as China and Vietnam, son preference also has its root in finance and marriage traditions. After marriage, the daughters are believed to belong to the in-law family and are supposed to take care of the in-laws. On the other hand, the sons inherit the family name and are responsible for the male side of the family. With the development of the one-child policy from the government to reduce population growth comes the fear of losing out on financial support from the sons after their marriage. This further exacerbates son preference. 


Religions also affect people’s bias towards men, especially traditional folk religions. Folk religions emphasize the status of men to be the leader of the family in worship traditions and for their wives to look after and serve the household. Confucian philosophy focuses on men’s roles and exempts a lot about women. In an excerpt from the Analects, it is written that, “Women and servants are hard to deal with” (Analects 17.25). However, there are arguments regarding the accuracy and appropriation of translated pronouns due to “you” or “你” in Chinese is a genderless word.

Writers: Ella, Cat


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