Date of Graduation

Spring 5-18-2024

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in International and Development Economics (MSIDEC)


College of Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Andrew Hobbs


Where most existing literature on fertility preferences has described how fertility preferences shape outcomes, this paper provides insight into how the sex of a recent birth affects a mother’s fertility preferences. Utilizing data from the Demographic Health Survey from 1985-2020 in 81 countries containing 309,238 mothers who gave birth in the past 12 months and who have equal to or fewer than three children, I employ OLS with two-way fixed effects as my primary specification, examining the effects of the plausibly exogenous sex of a recent birth on sibship sex composition preferences. Results show that a recent daughter birth increases a mother’s stated ideal number of daughters by roughly 0.1 while decreasing the ideal number of sons by about 0.06. Additionally, a recent daughter birth raises the ideal number of total children by 0.04, but this result is less robust to endogeneity. Previous literature has emphasized the power of the firstborn child in shaping a mother’s preferences, but this paper displays that mothers continuously update their preferences past the first birth in magnitudes statistically analogous to treatment effects of the first birth. Treatment effects of a recent daughter birth are directionally homogeneous across different model specifications and when testing for heterogeneous treatment effects across a variety of distinct subsamples. Convincingly, results can be explained within the framework of cognitive dissonance theory, ex-post rationalization, and contact theory. Considering the persistence and directional homogeneity of the results, a novel psychological regularity emerges: mothers with a recent daughter birth prefer a greater ideal number of daughters and a lower ideal number of sons when compared to those who recently birthed a son.