Changes in parental gender preference in the USA: evidence from 1850 to 2019


Sex composition, Gender makeup, Preference


We examine the degree to which parental gender preferences in the USA have changed over time. To quantify levels of parental sex preference, we compare the likelihood that mothers have a third child given the gender makeup of their first two children. We construct a novel dataset of women’s fertility histories using full-count censuses from 1850–1880 and 1900–1940 and extend the sample to 2019 using more recent datasets. We find a preference for having a mix of genders with only a small preference for sons. We find that a woman is about 2 percentage points more likely to have a third child if the sex of her first two children is the same, and this effect was very stable from 1850 to 1940. In contrast, we find that this effect gets much larger after 1940, reaching a high point in 1990–2000 of about 6–7 percentage points.

Original Publication Citation

Jones, Todd; Matthew Millington, and Joseph Price. “Changes in Parental Gender Preferences in the United States: Evidence from 1850-2019” Journal of Population Economics, 36, 3057-3070, 2023

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



Springer Nature




Family, Home, and Social Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor