A good number of parents start a family with an ideal end in mind when it comes to the sex and gender of their kids: having one boy and one girl, or just having at least one boy or at least one girl. Regardless of what you might think of the differences between boys and girls, and regardless of the fact that the gender of your kid might turn out to be different than their sex, hoping or “trying” for a boy or girl is still a common practice in many families.
Gender disappointment is also real, for both mothers and fathers. And a significant number of families who have two boys or two girls decide to have a third child just to maybe finally get that boy or girl that they want to complete their family.
Now, a new study has looked into how families with three boys and three girls are faring when it comes to happiness and life satisfaction after their gender hopes have been dashed. And the biggest takeaway seems to be that everyone ends up with the same level of wellbeing — except for the mothers of three girls.
Read more: People Keep Asking Me If I’m “Trying For A Boy” After Two Girls
The study, “All We Want Is A Healthy Baby — Well, And One That Is The Opposite Sex to What We Have Already,” was published in the latest issue of The Journal of Behavioral And Experimental Economics and explores the overall wellbeing of parents with children of different combinations of sexes.
The study, which examined the data of 34,000 people involved across two cohort studies in Great Britain, looked at the “subjective wellbeing” of parents with two boys, parents with two girls, parents with three boys, and parents with three girls.
What they found was that while the mothers and fathers of three boys as well as the fathers of three girls all had about the same sense of wellbeing, the mothers of three daughters felt slightly (but significantly) less life satisfaction for ten years after completing their family.
“Our data suggests that the disappointment is mostly from mothers with two girls not having a boy, as opposed to mothers of two boys not having a girl,” writes author Paul Dolan in the study.
Another strange finding in the study? Parents of two kids of the same sex (two boys or two girls) reported higher life satisfaction than parents with three kids of the same sex as well as parents with other combinations of children. Why? The researchers believe that there are quite a few benefits to having two kids of the same gender, including economic savings.
The findings imply that parents with two kids who wish for a third of a different sex might be better off in the long run sticking to two. Or they might just drive home the idea that a societal preference for boys in many Western cultures hurts families, especially mothers and families of daughters.
Dolan thinks the second point could be valid.
“Perhaps [the study outcome] is due to an outdated preference for boys,” he said.
A few things to remember when looking at this study: First and foremost, it examines only the feelings of British parents and reflects British culture — different cultures around the world have very different feelings about the sex and gender of their children, and the study would have different results across these cultures.
Secondly, the study might not reflect the personal feelings about gender of the parents, but rather a drop in wellbeing because of how the world views daughters over sons, or the greater difficulty in raising all daughters in a culture that values sons more.
Finally, “subjective wellbeing” means that parents answered for themselves how they were feeling — the objective wellbeing of the parents was not studied in this research. And the people in the study were half Boomers and half Gen X, which means the gender preferences of older generations are reflected in the study, not the thoughts and feelings of Millennials, who may put less weight on sex and gender.
Still, for families with two kids of the same sex who are considering adding a third just because they specifically want a son or daughter — this study is certainly interesting info to consider.