[Rewritten to express issues in economics terms:]

In terms of the classic economic rational actor (Aka homo economicus) is there some rationale to want to know the child's gender before it is born.

Potential economic advantages of knowing ahead of time:

  • Smaller decisions space for choosing a name
  • Can purchase items in advance

Potential disadvantages of knowing ahead of time:

  • Is there a utility of surprise?
  • Are excess purchasing impulses easier to control if you don't know the gender?

I would like to understand this in the framework of the classic rational actor (Assuming they would ever want to have a child)

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ It is rational. Rationality isn't listing the pros and cons of a decision. It is simply an expression of preferences. If an actor said, i would prefer to know the gender of a child before it is born', there is nothing to suggest irrationality... for more information see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rational_choice_theory#Formal_statement $\endgroup$
    – Jamzy
    May 9 '16 at 22:29
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this question is at too low a level for this SE. $\endgroup$
    – Jamzy
    May 9 '16 at 22:34
  • $\begingroup$ You have identified an economic rationale in your question. Easier to shop for and name a child. So... yes $\endgroup$
    – Jamzy
    May 10 '16 at 3:37
  • $\begingroup$ So from my reading, it depends on preference. as for the 4th item does impulse control fit within the model of the rational actor? $\endgroup$ May 10 '16 at 3:56
  • $\begingroup$ i don't know that impulse control applies here. Just completeness and transitivity. If you prefer to know the gender vs not knowing the gender, that is your preference relation. $\endgroup$
    – Jamzy
    May 10 '16 at 4:10

One typical story people tell is that in some countries there are strict population control policies and if families have a large economic incentive to have either a son or a daughter, they might neglect their pregnancy or terminate it if the child is not the gender they want it to be. In some societies the economic incentives to have sons or daughters are very different: typically sons are expected to bring in a working wife into the family, with a dowry, but daughters are expected to leave to the husband's family and take a dowry with them.


There can be an economic rationale to almost any decision, including those decisions that involve obtaining information. Reading your question, I would start by comparing the utility from knowledge with the utility from surprise. So long as utility from knowledge is higher than the utility from surprise, individuals will prefer to know. This behavior is consistent with rationality.

Empirically, I doubt that many individuals derive much utility early purchases or an early choice in name. (Most of the urgent stuff is gender-neutral anyway, afaik) However, there may be psychological benefits to obtaining this information before childbirth. For example, individuals might want to adapt their expectations.

This could be a behavioral story. Consider a two period scenario, where the first period is the decision to learn and not to learn, and the second period is the childbirth, where you learn anyway. Also consider that the individual derives utility from the difference between their expectations and the outcome. (Such a utility function is behavioral, because the net utility is dependent on not just the outcome, but the expectations.) If the individual is uncertain about their decisions in period two, they might want to set their expectations under risk averseness, or not learn if they are risk-lovers. It is just an idea.

With this line of thinking, one behavioral model to research might be Rabin and Koszegi (2006) "Personal Equilibrium".

If you would like a model with no behavioral component, that might be a bit trickier. Intuitively, we could expect more knowledge to generate more utility than less knowledge in general. However, this does not always need to be the case. If there is a commitment mechanism to commit to "not knowing", this could potentially have some returns for the parent. (I am not sure whether this can be convincing. I am more convinced by a more behavioral story.)


In essence the actual reference cannot be considered rational or irrational on its own. Consider the below definition from wikipedia in the context of the options given in the quesiton.

At its most basic level, behavior is rational if it is goal-oriented, reflective (evaluative), and consistent (across time and different choice situations). This contrasts with behavior that is random, impulsive, conditioned, or adopted by (unevaluative) imitation.

The first three reasons would be consistent with a rational choice, but the last bay not be consistent with the rational actor because its driven by impulse e.g. potentially buying unwanted items even though the expressed preference is not to buy them



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