Expectant mothers, a paper by social science scholars suggests that having an ultrasound to find out your child's gender may be giving subtle sociology clues about your views on proper gender roles and social psychology.
If you choose to learn about your baby's sex before birth, it may be because you are not open to new experiences and it may speak to a lack of belief in equal roles for men and women in society, according to a statistical regression analysis. You may be locked into traditional gender expectations by buying clothes and toys that match the gender of your baby. Mothers who knew the sex of their child also tended to be less educated, have lower household incomes and were less likely to be married than women who did not know.
The good news about mothers who do want to know the gender in advance, sort of: they scored higher on a test of parenting perfectionism.
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.
"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."
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 conscientiousness in which they stick to their beliefs and act on them," said Professor Sarah J. Schoppe-Sullivan.
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 women 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 sex 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 child?" she said.
"This may affect what paths a girl thinks is appropriate, all the way to what kind of careers she considers."