What finding out a child's sex before birth says about a mother

June 2, 2014 by Jeff Grabmeier, The Ohio State University
pregnancy, pregnant woman
Photo by Bianca de Blok.

An expectant mother who chooses to find out her child's sex before birth may be giving subtle clues about her views on proper gender roles, new research suggests.

The study found that women who choose not to learn their child's sex may be more open to new experiences, and combine egalitarian views about the roles of men and women in society with conscientiousness.

On the other hand, expectant mothers who scored high on a test of parenting perfectionism were more likely than others to learn their baby's sex.

"These results suggest women who choose not to learn their baby's sex may not worry about having clothes, toys and colors for their child that match traditional gender expectations," said Letitia Kotila, lead author of the study and a graduate student in human sciences at The Ohio State University.

"We don't know this for sure yet, but expectant mothers' choice on whether to find out their baby's sex may show gender role attitudes that will shape how they raise their children."

Kotila conducted the study with Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, associate professor, and Claire Kamp Dush, assistant professor, both in human sciences at Ohio State.

The results appear online in the journal Personality and Individual Differences and will be published in a future print edition.

The research involved 182 expectant mothers in Columbus who participated in a study designed to examine experiences and behaviors across the transition to parenthood. About two-thirds of the expectant mothers in this study knew their baby's sex before birth.

All of the participants took a variety of tests to measure various aspects of their personality, gender role beliefs and expectations related to parenting perfectionism.

Mothers who knew the sex of their child tended to be less educated, have lower household incomes and were less likely to be married than women who did not know.

The strongest effect was found in women who combined egalitarian gender role beliefs (the belief that women and men should share parenting roles) with conscientiousness.

"These women have egalitarian beliefs, but also this personality trait of in which they stick to their beliefs and act on them," Schoppe-Sullivan said.

Participants with this combination of traits were 87 percent less likely than others to know their child's sex before birth.

"A conscientious, egalitarian expectant mother may want to wait to find out the sex of the baby because she doesn't want to create an environment that reinforces old gender stereotypes," Schoppe-Sullivan said.

Women who scored high in "openness to experience" – suggesting they were curious and independent—were also less inclined to learn their baby's sex.

"These may be more willing to let their pregnancy unfold naturally and not feel the need for tests to reveal the child's sex," Kotila said.

Expectant mothers who scored high in parenting perfectionism – meaning they set unrealistically high standards – were slightly more likely to find out the sex early. More than other expectant mothers, they may think knowing the child's sex will relieve them of some anxiety during the uncertain pregnancy process, Kotila said.

Schoppe-Sullivan said this study is just a starting point for larger questions about the implications that knowing a child's may have for future parenting.

"If you know ahead of time that you're having a girl, are you layering on all the pink and purple in a way that is going to push an extremely feminine ideal on your ?" she said.

"This may affect what paths a girl thinks is appropriate, all the way to what kind of careers she considers."

Explore further: Men and women bothered by different types of cheating

Related Stories

Men and women bothered by different types of cheating

May 1, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—You've probably heard the saying men are from Mars, women are from Venus. New research from Kansas State University shows this saying even applies to views on cheating.

Seeking to be the 'perfect parent' not always good for new moms and dads

November 29, 2011
Parents of newborns show poorer adjustment to their new role if they believe society expects them to be "perfect" moms and dads, a new study shows.

Are feminism and attachment parenting practices compatible?

June 11, 2012
What kind of mothers do feminists make? According to a new study by Miriam Liss and Mindy Erchull, from the University of Mary Washington in the US, feminist mothers endorse the importance of the time-intensive, hands-on ...

Recommended for you

Study listens in on speech development in early childhood

January 15, 2018
If you've ever listened in on two toddlers at play, you might have wondered how much of their babbling might get lost in translation. A new study from the University of Toronto provides surprising insights into how much children ...

Study suggests people dislike you more for humblebragging than for regular boasting

January 12, 2018
A team of researchers from Harvard University and UNC-Chapel Hill has conducted a study regarding humblebragging—in which a person boasts about an achievement but tries to make it sound less boastful by minimizing it—and ...

Can writing your 'to-do's' help you to doze? Study suggests jotting down tasks can speed the trip to dreamland

January 11, 2018
Writing a "to-do" list at bedtime may aid in falling asleep, according to a Baylor University study. Research compared sleep patterns of participants who took five minutes to write down upcoming duties versus participants ...

Study identifies brain circuit controlling social behavior

January 11, 2018
A new study by researchers at Roche in Basel, Switzerland has identified a key brain region of the neural circuit that controls social behavior. Increasing the activity of this region, called the habenula, led to social problems ...

Tamper-resistant oxycodone tablets have no impact on overall opioid use

January 11, 2018
The introduction of tamper-resistant opioid tablets does not have an effect on rates of opioid use or harms at a population level, according to a new study led by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) at UNSW ...

Suicides by drugs in U.S. are undercounted, new study suggests

January 11, 2018
The rate of suicides by drug intoxication in the United States may be vastly underreported and misclassified, according to a new study co-written by Mark Kaplan, professor of social welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.