Son Preference in the Context of Fertility Decline: Limits to New Constructions of Gender and Kinship in Nepal

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Abstract

This article explores the persistence of son preference in a patrilineal, patrilocal society in the midst of fertility decline. Using survey and ethnographic data from Hindu-caste Nepali families in a semiurban village, I analyze which cultural norms regarding reproduction are questioned by contemporary married couples and which remain intact. Despite modest improvements in gender equality, levels of education, and economic conditions, the practical knowledge that daughters will be lost to other lineages and households pressures couples who might otherwise be willing to invest in daughters to continue procreating until they produce a son. Young mothers, therefore, reluctantly admit to needing a son, revealing a discrepancy between their initially stated reproductive ideals and their ultimate behavior.

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