Do dads really prefer sons?

A study showing evidence that parents might be biased has Aussie dad Ben Pobjie up in arms.

do new dads really prefer sons

I hate people who argue with science.

When those who lack knowledge and expertise on a subject try to dispute the findings of researchers who’ve dedicated years to their field, it’s just wilful ignorance.

But when a study comes along like a recent one from a group of Finnish and American researchers, revealing that mothers prefer daughters and fathers prefer sons … I can’t help myself.

My fatherly instincts kick in and I must protest.

The study in question found that men not only showed a preference for having or adopting boys – they were more likely to support charities that aided boys.

Women showed the opposite preferences, and were biased towards girls.

It was a study conducted by a university, and followed proper scientific method, but I still feel an instinctual urge to resist these findings.

Now I’m the one arguing with science…great.

Hey, science! Meet me in the car park. 3pm.

As a dad I know I’m biased, but hopefully, even in the face of cold hard science, my own experience counts for a little.

We can’t deny that there are parents who play favourites. Nobody’s perfect, even when they have kids.


Every parent should strive to avoid favouritism and I think most do a pretty good job of it, but sadly some don’t and some kids suffer for it.

There’s also no doubt that parents can have preferences for one gender over another.

Certainly there are mothers with boys who wish they’d had girls, and fathers with daughters who wish they’d had boys. There’s no point pretending these parents don’t exist.

But this isn’t a study of wayward parents, mean parents or unfair parents.

The researchers tell us that mums and dads in general incline towards favouring children of their own gender.

Nothing we can really do to fight that.

If we’re lucky maybe we’ll be an exception to the rule, but these are prejudices so deeply ingrained we’re unaware of them even when we’re living them out.

So how can I credibly argue against these findings?

If I were a dad who preferred boys to girls, I probably wouldn’t even know it.

Do we all really play favourites? Let’s look at the bigger picture here

So, I can’t say this study is wrong, but I can say I don’t think it tells us as much about parenting as it might seem at first glance.

Firstly, we should look at what “preference” means for the purposes of the study.

The study’s lead author said that “Women … chose to donate more to charities supporting girls and preferred to adopt girls. In contrast, men expressed consistent, albeit weaker, preferences for sons.”

I think a woman, given the chance to choose her child’s gender, might well prefer a daughter because she feels better-equipped to handle a girl. A man might well feel the same about having a son: it’s not a matter of “liking” one gender more than another, just of wanting to avoid one’s insecurities.

Personally, I was more afraid of having a male child than a female one, but this was just the same fear in mirror image: I was afraid of not living up to the assumptions that a man would be naturally better at raising a son.

So this research may be useful: it certainly provides some interesting insights.

But has it exposed a hidden ‘battle of the sexes’ in which mothers side with their daughters and fathers with their sons?

I don’t think so.

I’ll admit that if I have unconscious biases, they are … well, unconscious.

But if I’m confident of anything in my experience of fatherhood, it’s that I love all my kids equally, and that I’ve never placed any of them ahead of the others in any way.

I’m betting that’s your experience too — most of us love our kids equally whatever gender they are and are just muddling through the best we can.

We’ll always stuff up, but I don’t reckon our stuff-ups are down to favouritism — it’s just the unfortunate side-effect of being human.