DAUGHTERS HAVE long been linked with divorce. Several studies conducted in America since the 1980s provide strong evidence that a couple’s first-born being a girl increases the likelihood of their subsequently splitting up. At the time, the researchers involved speculated that this was an expression of “son preference”, a phenomenon which, in its most extreme form, manifests itself as the selective abortion or infanticide of female offspring.
Work published in the Economic Journal, however, debunks that particular idea. In “Daughters and Divorce”, Jan Kabatek of the University of Melbourne and David Ribar of Georgia State University, in Atlanta, confirm that having a female first-born does indeed increase the risk of that child’s parents divorcing, in both America and the Netherlands. But, unlike previous work, their study also looked at the effect of the girl’s age. It found that “daughter-divorce” risk emerges only in a first-born girl’s teenage years (see chart). Before they reach the age of 12, daughters are no more linked to couples splitting up than sons are. “If fathers were really more likely to take off because they preferred sons, surely they wouldn’t wait 13 years to do so,” reasons Dr Kabatek. Instead, he argues, the fact that the risk is so age-specific requires a different explanation, namely that parents quarrel more over the upbringing of teenage daughters than of teenage sons.