Why do some families have all boys or all girls?
If your children are all boys or all girls, you may have wondered why you’re more likely to conceive one gender instead of the other, or whether it’s all just up to chance. Read on to find out the answers to these questions about the likelihood of having only sons or daughters:
- Can some men father only girls because they produce only X sperm, or only boys because they have only Y sperm?
- If you already have two or more children of the same gender, are the odds stacked that your next baby will also be the same gender?
- What are the statistical odds of having four, five, six, or even more boys or girls in a row?
Girl or Boy: X Sperm or Y Sperm
A baby’s gender is determined at the moment of conception, when the egg is fertilized by a sperm carrying either an X or a Y chromosome. If an X sperm fertilizes the egg, a baby girl is conceived; if a Y sperm does the job, a baby boy is on the way.
Missing X’s or Y’s?
It seems logical that if a man has mostly X sperm, he’s likely to father only daughters; or if he has only Y sperm, he’ll have all sons.
Dr. Landrum Shettles claimed to observe this very phenomenon in his popular book, How to Choose the Sex of Your Baby. In his research, Dr. Shettles would sometimes encounter “a semen specimen that contained sperm of unusual uniformity, being almost all of one or the other type.” In these cases, he reported that the samples belonged to men who had fathered mostly boys, or mostly girls. One sample, containing only the “small, round-headed sperm” presumed to be X sperm, belonged to a man whose family had produced only daughters for over 250 years.
The theory that missing X or Y sperm accounts for conceiving only daughters or sons certainly seems reasonable, and Dr. Shettles’ experiments may sound convincing – but there’s more to the story.
A theory based on flawed experiments.
At the time Dr. Shettles conducted his experiments, in 1960, no reliable method of actually measuring the number of X and Y sperm in semen existed. Dr. Shettles seems to have relied on visually distinguishing between the two types of sperm he viewed under his microscope, based on the size and shape of individual sperm.
However, today we know that the size and shape characteristics of X and Y sperm overlap – it’s impossible to separate the two types of sperm simply by looking at them under the microscope, no matter how advanced or powerful it may be. Thus, Dr. Shettles’ experiments were not adequate to confirm his theory. Although he may have observed sperm cells of various shapes and sizes, he never proved these corresponded to X and Y sperm.
Modern advances and new knowledge.
Scientists now have an accurate and reliable technique to identify X and Y sperm, called fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH); this method has been used and accepted by the scientific community for over a decade. Dozens of medical studies have been published on the use of FISH to analyze semen samples, and the results are unanimous: virtually every semen sample tested has equal numbers of X and Y sperm, regardless of the man’s age, race, country, or fertility.
(The only exceptions are men with genetic disorders, such as Klinefelter’s or Down’s Syndromes, in which an abnormal number of chromosomes is present.)
An especially interesting study was conducted by MicroSort, at the respected Genetics and IVF Institute in Fairfax, Virginia. Semen analyses were performed for a select group of men: those with at least four sons and no daughters, or with at least four daughters and no sons. The outcome? Again, equal numbers of X and Y sperm.
Equal X’s and Y’s for all.
In fact, the way that sperm cells are formed practically guarantees that X and Y sperm are produced in equal numbers. New X and Y sperm are created through the equal division of an XY parent cell in a process called spermatogenesis. Regardless of whether a man’s overall sperm count is high or low, as long as new sperm is produced, it will be in equal proportions of X’s and Y’s.
What are the odds of having another boy or girl?
You may have heard that if you’ve already had two or three boys or girls, the odds are that your next baby will be the same gender. But if you’re hoping to add the opposite gender to your family, take heart! The notion that you’re destined to keep having boys, or girls, is just another old wives’ tale that has no basis in fact. Real statistics show that you have a 50/50 chance of having a boy or girl with each birth, regardless of the gender of your previous children.
At least, the odds are almost 50/50.
Although you would expect to find boys and girls born in equal numbers in a large population, the actual normal birth ratio is about 51% boys. For every 100 girls born, 104 to 105 boys come into the world. No one is sure exactly why boy births outnumber girl births, but this ratio has been observed for decades in the US Census, and in the populations of most other countries.
So if you’re hoping for a son, you have a small numerical advantage on your side: there is at least a 51% chance that any birth will be a boy.
A greater likelihood for another boy?
Some data shows that after having boys, your chance of conceiving another boy increases, but only very slightly. Researchers studying Danish population data found that among families with three boys, the odds of having a fourth boy increased to 52%. US population data seems to show a similar trend.
And while scientists consider this effect statistically interesting, what exactly does it mean to you? Even after giving birth to three or four sons, your odds of having another boy are only 1% to 2% greater than they were before your first baby was born. So if you harbor a wish to add a daughter to your family, don’t think you’re out of the running just because you already have a houseful of boys!
What about the odds of having all boys or all girls?
So if virtually all men possess equal amounts of X and Y sperm, and each birth has nearly even odds of being a boy or a girl, how do we explain large families of all boys or all girls? Let’s take a look at the odds of having an all-boy or all-girl family, compared to the odds of having a family with both genders, under the simple assumption that each birth has a 50/50 chance of being a boy or a girl:
||% Families with
|% Families with
||1 in 2 |
||1 in 4|
||1 in 8|
||1 in 17|
||1 in 33|
||1 in 63|
||1 in 125|
The more children in the family, the more unlikely it becomes to have all boys or all girls. But while statistics tell us it is less likely to have 5 boys, for example, it also tells us that in a large enough population it is not only possible, but expected that a 5-boy family will occur; in fact, we should see a same-gender family in one out of every 17 families of 5 children.
Even though it seems as if some force must be at work to cause the birth of many boys or girls in a row, the explanation is simply the near equal odds of having a boy or a girl at each birth, which is not influenced by the gender of previous children.
Whatever genders make up your unique and special family, now you know what biological and statistical factors may have played a role in making them boys, girls, or both.