Do American Mothers Treat Sons and Daughters Alike?

Elizabeth M. Armstrong, Princeton University
Christopher C. Weiss, Princeton University

Son preference is well documented in parts of the developing world, particularly China, Korea, India and South Asia. In societies where son preference is strong, adverse consequences for girls may be severe, including death. In the U.S. where the stated norm is gender equality, surprisingly little attention to whether childrearing practices differ by gender. This absence seems all the more surprising given the evidence of gender bias in the American primary education system. This paper uses the NLSY to examine gender-differentiated parenting practices (infant feeding, well baby care, child care) in the U.S. Despite prevailing norms of gender equity, we hypothesize that mothers treat boys and girls differently; however, these differences cause less morbidity and fewer lasting developmental effects, because children in the U.S. generally receive adequate nutrition and medical care and child mortality overall is low. Therefore, gender bias in the U.S. may be invisible in infancy.

Presented in Session 97: Sociocultural Issues in Maternal and Child Health in the U.S.