Results are in - and boys (still) win

The 1950s are long gone, but parents today overwhelmingly say boys are easier to raise than girls.

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The nation may be split over its president, but when it comes to picking babies in America, the choice is clear: Boys win, hands-down.

In a Gallup poll released yesterday, a whopping 42 percent of American adults surveyed said that if they could have only one child, they would prefer a boy. A mere 27 percent favored having a girl. A final (clear-headed) contingent of 25 percent held that either one would be just fine, thank you.

That's not all. More than half of all adults polled - 53 percent - said they think a boy would be easier to raise, versus 28 percent who say a girl would give them an easier time.

Perhaps most revealing, today's poll results differ little from similar Gallup surveys conducted in the 1990s and as early as the 1940s. If anything, favoritism for boys has grown since the days of FDR and Jackie Robinson.

The numbers are particularly surprising given the recent spate of books and research on the difficulties boys face growing up - much of which was fueled by the Columbine shooting a year and a half ago.

What surprises experts even more about the poll is that over the years about 70 percent of Americans have consistently favored one sex or the other. Such strong gender stereotyping "says something not so great about society," says Kim Gandy, executive vice president of the National Organization for Women in Washington.

In fact, the polls show that significantly fewer people - 14 percent today compared with 23 percent in 1990 - say there is no difference in the ease of raising boys versus girls.

So much for sugar and spice, girls - this is snail country!

This is not to say Americans are rabid sexists. Rather, they believe other people are rabid sexists. Then, somewhere along the line, the prophecy becomes self-fulfilling. "There's no question that boys and men in general have an easier time of it in this world, so people view boys as easier to raise," Ms. Gandy says.

Practically speaking, this means boys are likely to be more successful, earn more money, and so on, says Donna Lenhoff, general counsel of the National Partnership for Women and Families here, which promotes workplace fairness. "Women's lives - because of pervasive ongoing discrimination - may in fact look less promising," she says.

Gandy, a mother of "two amazing daughters," feels she must consciously work to nurture their self-confidence and defend their rights because of the "pervasive" societal attitude that elevates men.

And parents may worry about the sexual discrimination, harassment, and violence many girls face, says Ms. Lenhoff.

"I guess you look at boys as less trouble as they grow up," says Alison, a mother in Little Rock, Ark., who asked that her full name not be used. She hoped for, and had, a son. "[Boys] are more independent."

While Americans fear for their daughters, it appears that mothers - and fathers especially - see a source of pride in their sons. Traditionally, boys are looked to carry on the family name. On a deeper level, men want to bond with boys through sports, fishing trips, and other stereotypically male interests, experts say.

"Men seem much more invested in raising a son," says Sarah Lee, editor in chief of Parents Magazine, a New York-based monthly. "For guys, babies don't necessarily inspire warm goo-goo feelings inside, so a boy baby may be easier to connect with."

When Ms. Lee found out her first child would be a daughter, her husband was pleased. But, "people assumed he was going to be disappointed," she says. "They said, 'Wouldn't you want to take your son fishing, or play sports?' "

Lee's experience is that while men often strongly prefer boys, women's feelings are less definite. They may prefer girls, or either sex, or in some cases simply go along with the desires of their husbands.

Linda Gullicksen, a stay-at-home mom in Hingham, Mass., is expecting her fourth child next month. With twin 9-year-old boys and a six-year-old son, she was surprised when about half of the people who offered up opinions said they hoped she had another male - and many of these were parents of daughters.

"Maybe these people are in a more difficult stage with their girls," says Mrs. Gullicksen. "I have friends who say, when you get three girls together, forget it, they start fights."

Whoa. Are we truly just a nation of boy boosters? At least for this reporter, a parent of two sons and two daughters, it's time for a reality check.

"How wrong they are!" exclaimed Eleanor Maccoby, a psychology professor at Stanford University in California, when confronted with the poll data.

Author of the 1998 book, "The Two Sexes: Growing Apart and Coming Together," Ms. Maccoby takes a long-range view of raising children. She holds that as a group both boys and girls present distinct challenges and rewards for parents, but at different times in their lives.

"I think until puberty boys are harder to raise," Maccoby says. Younger boys tend to be more boisterous and physical, Maccoby and other experts say. Girls, in contrast "are more compliant and pay more attention to their schoolwork."

Upon entering adolescence and "the maelstrom of teenage culture," the picture grows more mixed. Maccoby agrees that "it's very hard with girls," whose vulnerability to sexual mistreatment requires a special vigilance from parents. Boys, however, "are far more likely to get into delinquent types of trouble than girls are."

Finally, as they enter adulthood, Maccoby says that daughters are more likely to remain close to and care for their parents.

Meanwhile, Lee says each time Parents Magazine publishes an article on choosing a child's sex, she is flooded with reader letters and phone calls.

"Aren't we supposed to be more enlightened?" she asks. "We are understanding that men and women are very different, but they are equal."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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