Is It a Boy or a Girl? Sex Preference Among Immigrants in Finland

Eleonora Mussino, Demography Unit, Department of Sociology, Stockholm University
Sol Juarez, Stockholm University
Anna Heino, National Institute for Health and Welfare

The sex ratio at birth (SRB) is defined as the number of male births per female births. Without external interventions, among newborns there is a slight excess of boys over girls and the natural SRB lies at approximately 1.05. In some societies, however, the SRB has been strongly skewed toward boys. This has been particularly documented in some countries in Asia. For instance, the SRB was estimated at 1.16 in China in 2014 and at 1.10 in India in 2012. Such patterns are also evident in some Eastern European countries. Normally, an elevated sex ratio at birth indicates a voluntary use of prenatal sex testing and sex-selective abortion
The present study contributes to this literature by investigating the SRB of different immigrant groups and the native-born population in Finland, a universalistic welfare state that has taken positive action in promoting gender equality.
In this study we use Finnish population Registers. More specifically we linked the Medical Birth Register (MBR) with the Finnish Register on Induced Abortions and the Population Register data on women’s background characteristics from Statistics Finland using personal identity number (PIN) which is included in all registers.
Among the methods used to measure sex preference, in this study, we look at imbalances in SRB by country of birth of the mother, implying that a skewed SRB is a result of sex-selection. Previous studies found that this selection is even stronger when we look at third or higher order births among couples that previously only had daughters. We will then look at SRB by different parity and by composition of the previous children. Because this distortion might be an indirect evidence for sex-selective abortions we also look at abortion rate by sex composition of previous children and by gestational age.

The sex ratio at birth (SRB) is defined as the number of male births per female births. Without external interventions, among newborns there is a slight excess of boys over girls and the natural SRB lies at approximately 1.05. In some societies, however, the SRB has been strongly skewed toward boys. This has been particularly documented in some countries in Asia. For instance, the SRB was estimated at 1.16 in China in 2014 and at 1.10 in India in 2012 (Guilimoto 2015). Such patterns are also evident in some Eastern European countries (Bongaarts 2013; UNFPA 2012). Normally, an elevated sex ratio at birth indicates a voluntary use of prenatal sex testing and sex-selective abortion (Goodkind 1996, Seth 2010).

This debate has lately included the presence of male-heavy SRB among certain immigrant groups living in countries where the SRB of the native population ranges around the natural value. For example, SRB skewed toward boys is documented among Indian-born mothers in England (Dubuc and Coleman 2007); among Chinese, Korean, and Indian parents in the United States (Almond and Edlund 2008); and among South and East Asian immigrants in Canada (Almond et al. 2013). Those findings suggest that preference for sons over daughters may prevail among certain populations, even after they have migrated to a context in which different welfare and norms exist.

The present study contributes to this literature by investigating the SRB of different immigrant groups and the native-born population in Finland, a universalistic welfare state that has taken positive action in promoting gender equality (Mussino, Tervola and Duavnder 2017). We focus on the SRB by the sex of the previous children from the mothers’ perspective. This perspective helps to discern the extent to which immigrants exhibit sex preferences for children via their fertility behavior. Similar studies have been done in other Nordic countries. A recent study had look at SRB in Norway finding evidence of son preferences among immigrant mothers with an Asian background (Singh et al. 2010), especially for higher-order births. However, always in Norway Tønnessen and colleagues (2013) noticed a changing trend of SRB among Indian immigrants in more recent years. Apparently these results are contradicting but they might only demonstrate that later immigrant cohorts or immigrants who have resided in the host country for a long time may have new sex preferences for children. Similar results have been shown by Mussino et al. (2017), they found that the women coming from China, Korea, and India in Sweden have at the third parity significantly elevated SRB if previous children were both girls. However, they also found that the skewed ratio became less pronounced after the year 2000, suggesting a shift for a more neutral sex preference for children among these groups in the new century. This shift has not been showed among immigrants form South-East Asia in other Western countries. The same authors then concludes that this support the importance of a gender egalitarian and generous welfare state to offset the skewed SRB. To our knowledge there are not such studies focusing on Finland, which is as well characterized by universalistic and gender equalitarian welfare states. The Finnish case will add two insightful points to the literature on sex preference for children.

  1. Even if Finland is characterized by universalistic and gender equalitarian welfare states and Among natives in Sweden and Norway, daughters preferences have being emerging among native women (Andersson et al. 2006, 2007), while not sign of such trend has being seen in Finland
  2. Few other studies where actually able to link the information of SRB with abortion.

In this study we use Finnish population Registers. More specifically we linked the Medical Birth Register (MBR) with the Finnish Register on Induced Abortions and the Population Register data on women’s background characteristics from Statistics Finland using personal identity number (PIN) which is included in all registers.

Among the methods used to measure sex preference, in this study, we look at imbalances in SRB by country of birth of the mother, implying that a skewed SRB is a result of sex-selection. Previous studies found that this selection is even stronger when we look at third or higher order births among couples that previously only had daughters (e.g. Almond and Edlund 2008). We will then look at SRB by different parity and by composition of the previous children. Because this distortion might be an indirect evidence for sex-selective abortions (Dubuc and Cleman 2007), even if abortion on grounds of sex selection is not generally allowed in Finland, we also look at abortion rate by sex composition of previous children and by gestational age.

Presented in Session 1232: Sexual and Reproductive Behaviour