Most previous studies looked at the devastating social and demographic effects of a culture gender preference for male babies (aka, cultural and parental sex discrimination). These include population imbalance, and disruption in institutions, economies, and long-term family well-being.
In a new study, Perceived parental sex discrimination, happiness and self-esteem: children’s perspective, Poh-Chua Siah, from the Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman in Malaysia, found that daughters who felt their parents preferred sons were less happy and had lower self-esteem.
Dr. Siah asked 805 Chinese Malaysian children about their happiness, self-esteem, and if they felt they were treated differently by their parents because of their sex.
Although Malaysian culture in general does not prefer one sex over the other, a preference for boys is clear among Chinese Malaysians (as it is in mainland China), to the extent that sex ratio at birth in that community is now imbalanced.
Dr Siah found that perceived parental sex discrimination (PPSD), happiness and self-esteem were negatively and significantly related, but, crucially, just for girls. Conversely, parents’ perceived sex preferences had no effect on boys’ reported happiness or self-esteem.
With a strong preference for boys a feature of many global cultures, Dr Siah’s results, published in the The Journal of Vulnerable Children and Youth Studies, have wide implications.
“Based on previous studies that revealed negative psychological impact associated with low self-esteem and low happiness,” Siah said, “this report suggests that parental preference for sons did have significant psychological impact on daughters, so more effort should be invested to analyze the consequences of the cultural preference for sons.”
Future studies of the effects of PPSD should take interviews, observations and input from parents, as well as reports from the children themselves, into account. With many of the world’s females living in cultures, where a preference for sons is expressed, it is crucial to understand the potential damage such preferences can do.
The Journal of Vulnerable Children and Youth Studies is published by Taylor & Francis, which is making the full article available online . Thanks to Donna Hutchinson of Taylor & Francis Journals.
Joe Kelly is the best-selling author of Dads and Daughters: How to Inspire, Understand, and Support Your Daughter and 5 other fathering books. He is also Co-Founder of New Moon Girls.