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In the mid–80s to mid–90s, parents seemed less inclined to wish for both sons and daughters. Some experts predicted that gender preference would continue to wane as gender roles become less pronounced. New research revisits the question.

In the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, American parents seemed less inclined to wish for at least one son and one daughter than in the past. Some experts believed that was because gender roles were becoming less pronounced and predicted that such gender preference would continue to wane.

But what those researchers called "gender indifference" appears to have stalled, according to a new study by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and at Fudan University, published by the Journal of Marriage and Family.

Sociologists Felicia Tian of Fudan, located in Shanghai, and S. Philip Morgan of the Carolina Population Center at UNC Chapel Hill examined four different data "waves" from the National Survey of Family Growth, from 1966-2009, to see whether parents were indeed more inclined to have a third child if their first two were the same gender.

They concluded the "data show evidence consistent with a 'stalled revolution.’”

Their study, "Gender Composition of Children and the Third Birth in the United States," looked specifically at the effects of what has been called the gender revolution, because females have taken on roles that had been traditionally male.

Paula England of Stanford University listed some of the factors categorized as part of the "gender revolution" in a paper called "The Gender Revolution: Uneven and Stalled," published in the journal Gender and Society in 2010. Those factors included gender equity at universities throughout America, the increasing number of women who are employed and more women in traditionally male jobs, among others.

Many researchers have looked at gender preference, but most have focused on preference for a first or only child.

Since 1941, Gallup has polled on whether parents have a gender preference for a single child. In 2011, Gallup noted that "if Americans could have only one child, they would prefer that it be a boy rather than a girl, by a 40 percent to 28 percent margin, with the rest having no preference or no opinion on the matter. These attitudes are remarkably similar to what Gallup measured in 1941, when Americans preferred a boy to a girl by a 38 percent to 24 percent margin."

Writing for Gallup, Frank Newport said, "The attitudes of American men drive the overall preference for a boy; in the current poll … men favor a boy over a girl by a 49 percent to 22 percent margin. American women do not have a proportionate preference for girls. Instead, women show essentially no preference either way: 31 percent say they would prefer a boy and 33 percent would prefer a girl."

The older the respondents the narrower the margin of preference for boys, he added.

A study in Open Anthropology found women want girls and men want boys. Wrote Time's Bonnie Rochman: "The results surprised even the researchers, from Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, who'd surveyed more than 2,000 students, staff and faculty at the college about gender preference in offspring. They’d assumed that respondents would show little or no preference, but they found that — no matter how they worded the question — there was a 'significant offspring gender preference' along gender lines."

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