Son preference is a longstanding expression of patriarchy. This interdisciplinary project investigates son preference motivated family-making decisions in the UK and among Asian communities, with the aim to understand childbearing preferences and practices, including gender-based prenatal sex-selection (PSS).

Son preference among some British Asian communities and especially its translation into gender-selective abortion has been at the centre of 2015 Parliamentary debates to revise, or not, the abortion law and resulted in Serious Crime Act 2015, Section 84, calling for more and updated research and clarifications on gender selective practices in the UK and within communities, that this project aims to inform. We use mixed methods to elucidate variability and inter-generational changes in gender preferences and values and their translation into childbearing practices.

We use demographic data from various sources and analyse quantitatively gender-based childbearing practices, including the stopping rule, gender based childbearing practice, the sex ratio at birth (SRB) that evidences PSS, trends and intergenerational changes. This will provide novel and robust evidence of the extent to which son preference is manifested demographically, and clarify potential evidence of PSS in recent years in the UK.

Son-preference, though rooted in traditional patriarchy, is also changing in character. While the quantitative work will bring novel insights into reproductive practices motivated by son-preference, an extensive qualitative analysis will investigate family dynamics within South Asian communities and inter-generational shifts of contextualized representations and practices of gender preferences. This work will investigate the pervasiveness of the gendered social orders and shifting patriarchal cultures within South Asian communities, and explore the dynamic interrelation of differently gendered social systems.

Our project is of interest to women, their families, and the communities particularly concerned with gender equality and gender justice, as well as women’s groups and the community-based organizations supporting them, with which we aim to engage. Our project is also of interest to the medical profession and reproductive health organisations at the forefront of dealing with PSS, related policies and recent Parliamentary debates. To this end, we will complement our empirical analysis by conducting a policy framing analysis, and use an ethics approach within a gender justice framework, in collaboration with ETHOX (Oxford), to inform best practice recommendations. We also work closely with the Department of Health in response to the demand for more research and clarifications for potential interventions. This 3.5 year project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC; Grant ref ES/NO1877X/1).

Long research title: Son preference and sex-selection against females in the UK: Evidence, causes, trends and implications.