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Global Labor Markets and Child Gender Preference in Rural Bangladesh

The purpose of this research is to qualitatively examine the connections between economic change, global labor markets, and the preference for male children in the context of a developing country undergoing rapid fertility decline. Specifically, the research goal is to assess daughter valuation in rural Bangladesh during a period of significant male labor outmigration. The preference for male children is a long-standing practice in South and East Asia that is attributed to patrilineal, patrilocal family systems that rely on sons to support the family economically while daughters require a dowry to be married out. In places where son preference is the norm, fertility decline has been shown to intensify that preference. When parents are motivated to have fewer children, they tend to become more selective about having sons and favoring them in practice. As a result, daughters are devalued to the point of selective abortion, abuse, and neglect. In rural Bangladesh, however, fertility decline appears to have had the opposite effect: son preference is declining as fertility rates fall, even as sons are earning more and sending a higher remittance than ever before. Data suggest that, among some families, child gender preference is shifting away from sons and toward daughters. Rather than devalue female children, parents have begun to rely on their daughters to fulfill many of the family responsibilities left behind by sons who emigrated for work. As one respondent said, "Your daughters will understand you and take care of you, but your son will only show up to throw dirt on your grave." The shift toward daughter valuation has many positive consequences, including more education and better health outcomes for girls. But daughter valuation also stems from a significant increase in demand for daughters' household and care-work. As the local population ages and chronic diseases become more common, the resultant care-work will constitute a significant burden for young women.