Do Parents Prefer Sons in North Korea?



Son preference in South Korea is stronger than anywhere else in the world, yet little is known about such preference in North Korea. Simple indicators of son preference in North Korea are constructed from its 1993 population census and a 1998 survey of child nutrition (conducted in the wake of the recent famine). These indicators include sex ratio at birth, sex ratios of infant and child mortality, and sex ratios of child malnutrition. North Koreans do not evince prenatal discrimination against daughters, a finding that may indicate a lack of prenatal sex-testing technologies. Neither is evidence found of excess female mortality or malnutrition in the postnatal period, during which discrimination requires no special technology. The discrepancy in son preference across the Korean peninsula seems due largely to the socialist agenda pursued in the north following political partition after World War II. An important aspect of that agenda challenged the ancient Confucian ideology presumed to underlie son preference. Apparently, this challenge was more successful in North Korea than in other Asian societies instituting similar political changes, because son preference was not eliminated in China or in Vietnam.