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Son Meta Preference

The newly released National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) reconfirms that a large number of Indians have a preference for sons with the only exception of Meghalaya.

About NFHS

  • The NFHS is a large-scale, multi-round survey conducted in a representative sample of households throughout India.
  • The NFHS provides estimates on key indicators related to population, family planning, child and maternal health, nutrition, adult health, and domestic violence, among others.
  • The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, has designated International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS) as the nodal agency for the NFHS.
  • NFHS was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) with supplementary support from UNICEF.
  • The First National Family Health Survey (NFHS-1) was conducted in 1992-93.
  • NFHS-5 covers the period 2019-21.


  • Son meta-preference – The number of married people (age 15-49) who want more sons than daughters is several times the number who want more daughters than sons.
  • However, most Indians still believe an ideal family should include at least one daughter.
  • Most of the respondents want at least one son and at least one daughter.
  • Average children– Men and women would both want to have an average of 2.1 children which is almost the same as the current total fertility rate.
  • A married person who has at least one son is less likely to want more children than another married person whose existing children do not include a son.
  • Trends by states– Among the states and Union Territories, men in Mizoram (37%), Lakshadweep (34%) and Manipur (33%), and women in Bihar (31%) show the strongest preference for more sons.
  • Meghalaya is a matrilineal society where the ancestral descent is traced through maternal instead of paternal line.

    Across all states and both genders, Meghalaya women are the only section in which a higher proportion prefers more daughters than sons than the proportion that want more sons than daughter.

 Reasons for son preference

  • In India’s patriarchal society, a boy is widely viewed as an asset, a future breadwinner and caregiver while a girl, on the other hand, is seen as a liability.
  • The son preference is rooted in the traditional belief that a male child would carry forward the family name.
  • It is also believed that sons will look after the parents in their old age, while daughters would leave them for their matrimonial homes.
  • Also, raising a daughter would cost them dowries.

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