Do Sons Reduce Parental Mortality?

Genevieve Pham-Kanter, Princeton University
Noreen Goldman, Princeton University

Although sons are thought to impose greater physiological costs on mothers than daughters, sons may be advantageous for parental health and survival in some social contexts. We examined the relationship between the sex composition of surviving offspring and parental survival in contemporary China and Taiwan. Because of strong son preference and the importance of sons for the provision of support to elderly parents in these populations, we hypothesized that sons would have a beneficial effect on parental survival relative to daughters. We found that there has been no protective effect of sons in either China or Taiwan. In Taiwan, daughters may have been more beneficial than sons in reducing older age mortality in recent years. We offer several explanations for these findings, including the possible benefits associated with emotional and interpersonal forms of support provided by daughters and the potential negative impacts of conflicts arising between parents and resident daughters-in-law.

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Presented in Session 14: Economic Conditions and Mortality