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Max Weber Programme for Postdoctoral Studies - Department of Political and Social Sciences

The long arm of extended families: How sex-mix preferences shape opportunities

Max Weber Fellow Federica Querin has devised a demographic research approach to illuminate the effects of families' preferences for boys or girls on familiy size through multiple generations, and consequently on socio-economic opportunities and outcomes.

28 February 2022 | Publication - Research

Governments and the research community have a great interest in knowing how family size contributes to outcomes such as educational attainment and parental labour market participation. But understanding people’s decisions to have children or not is difficult, and extrapolating the process into society at large is more difficult still. EUI Max Weber Fellow Federica Querin has been exploring the pathways for these offspring sex preferences and she has discovered patterns over multiple generations that open new methodological avenues for family demography. 

Research has already shown that sex-mix preferences (that is, do parents wish to have more boys, more girls, or a mix?) provide an important clue. In countries with low fertility and tiny nuclear families, however, it is difficult to construct accurate models of this decision-making process, because there are increasingly fewer families that have three or more children – leaving us with scarce data.

Querin has developed a new approach that takes advantage of the fact that parents pay attention to the generations that have gone before, and to the make-up of families in their extended circle of kin, when making decisions about having offspring. While a mixed-sex composition is the preferred one, multi-generational families where a man in the middle generation has a son (‘uninterrupted line of male descendants’) are less likely to continue having (grand)children after the first grandson than those with an ‘interrupted line’.

In a recent article published in Population Studies, she suggests a new strategy that can be applied when there are at least two or three cousins across an extended family. This allows us to research the effects of family size on other socioeconomic variables, such as social class, education, and labour market participation, in countries with both high and low fertility. 

Federica Querin holds a PhD in Demography and Social Policy from Princeton University and a BA and MS in Economics and Social Sciences from Bocconi University. She received the Charles F. Westoff Prize in Demography and was twice awarded the Fellowship of Woodrow Wilson Scholars. She is a Max Weber Fellow at the EUI in 2021–2022.

Last update: 28 February 2022

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