Son Preference and the Persistence of Culture: Evidence from South and East Asian Immigrants to Canada



Preference for sons over daughters, evident in China's and South Asia's male sex ratios, is commonly rationalized by poverty and the need for old-age support. In this article we study South and East Asian immigrants to Canada, a group for whom the economic imperative to select sons is largely absent. Analyzing the 2001 and 2006 censuses, 20 percent samples, we find clear evidence of extensive sex selection in favor of boys at higher parities among South and East Asian immigrants unless they are Christian or Muslim. The latter finding accords with the explicit prohibition against (female) infanticide—traditionally the main sex-selection method—in these religions. Our findings point to a strong cultural component to both the preference for sons and the willingness to resort to induced abortion based on sex.