Having a Son Doesn’t Improve Moms’ Standing In the Family

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May 7, 2018

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One of the suggested explanations for the persisting son preference in India (and other developing countries) is that mothers experience a number of benefits within their families after giving birth to a male child, such as increased decision-making and bargaining power.

But a new analysis of data from across India has found that, while such benefits may briefly exist for new mothers, having a son does not increase the standing of a woman in a household in the long run.

U.S. academic Laura Zimmerman looked at qualitative data from large Indian datasets to determine whether a woman’s decision-making power within a family is heightened after having a male child.

She found little evidence of consistently large benefits for a woman after giving birth to a son. Any positive impact on a new mother’s standing after the birth of a male child disappeared after the child was six months old.

Contradicting the assumption that sons provide for the family and take over running the household when they get older, the analysis also no large benefits to mothers of adult sons. In fact, women with adult sons did not enjoy any increase in bargaining power within their families.

These results challenge the deeply-held belief that mothers are treated better when they deliver male children. Of course, such conclusions are hardly surprising given the outdated logic behind such beliefs — for example, sons are no longer the only people who can provide for the family, considering the increased number of women in the Indian labor force today.

If sons deliver no benefits to the mother even after they reach adulthood, it should follow that women who give birth to girl children face no discrimination from the family. Yet this is not currently the case. As the so-called ‘reasons’ for preference for a male child lose ground in India, hopefully the gender bias rooted at the heart of our society will start to chip away, too — until women don’t need a baby of either gender in order to have equal voice and agency within a family.

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Written By Urvija Banerji

Urvija Banerji is the Features Editor at The Swaddle, and has previously written for Rolling Stone India and Atlas Obscura. When she’s not writing, she can be found in her kitchen, painting, cooking, picking fights online, and consuming large amounts of coffee (often concurrently).

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