Date of Graduation

Spring 5-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in International and Development Economics (MSIDEC)


College of Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Jesse Anttila-Hughes


Fertility rates around the world are falling at the same time that male-skewed sex ratios at birth are on the rise. The individual fertility choices people make contribute to this inverse relationship, exacerbating the problem of “missing women” as well as a number of other adverse social and economic effects. The decision to have a child is extremely complex. Distilling the interaction between fertility and sex compositional preferences, fertility levels, and gender norms is an important step toward understanding both the reproductive choices people make as well as the formation of fertility preferences. I use individual-level data from the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) over the period from 1984 through 2018 to perform empirical analysis on the fertility preferences of women and men from over 75 countries. I exploit the exogenous sex of firstborn children and the timing of the DHS survey to explore the marginal effect of having a recently firstborn son or daughter on preferences for total fertility, as well as preferred numbers of sons and daughters. I then test two existing theories how on the sex of existing children influences parity progression: that the sex of existing children matters more in low fertility regimes in explaining subsequent births, and that the sex of children will matter more in places with less egalitarian gender norms. Analysis suggests that the sex of firstborn children plays a role in how fertility preferences update. The strongest preference changes are for ideal number of daughters, although total fertility also change dependent on the sex of one’s firstborn. Finally, I find evidence to support the theory that fertility regimes and gender norms play a role in determining preference updates.