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Stress Gives You Daughters, Sons Make You Liberal

The Northwestern University economist Charles Manksi calls it the “reflection problem”: How can we know if person A is affecting person B, or the reverse? Without being in each person’s head or observing every subtle non-verbal cue in their interactions, it’s impossible to know what’s causing what, who is the leader and who is the follower.

Families are especially complex: Cause and effect are hard to disentangle in the bubbling cauldron that is a household. There are the daily negotiations between husband and wife, instructions to (and rejections by) children, and interactions with people outside the family. Taken as a whole, it is a challenge for a social scientist to analyze.

But there is at least one lens through which family interactions and feedback have become apparent: gender. It turns out that a complex set of negotiations and drives revolve around the sex of children, which involve both effects from parents onto children and vice versa.


In 1973, Robert Trivers and Dan Willard put forth the hypothesis that the sex of offspring is not, in

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