Do attractive people tend to have more daughters?

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was produced by the Winton programme for the public understanding of risk based in the Statistical Laboratory in the University of Cambridge. The aim was to help improve the way that uncertainty and risk are discussed in society, and show how probability and statistics can be both useful and entertaining.

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I got a commentary in the Times today (due to the Times paywall, this is a local link to the unedited article, rather than to the published version) about a study that estimated that people rated as 'unattractive' when they were 7 years old only had 44% chance of their first child being a girl. This effect seems utterly implausible.

There are a number of subtle biases about the publicity surrounding such research: as well as the fact that only positive results tend to be published and covered in the media, 'statistically significant' findings from small studies tend to be gross over-estimates of the effects that are plausible. Andrew Gelman makes these points well in his article on a previous study by the same author. If we add in the possibility of biases in the study design, then we are left with the conclusions of one of the most downloaded and cited papers in modern medical literature - John Ioannidis claim that most published research findings are false (or at least very exaggerated).



Does the fact that one of the England rugby teams of the Carling-Johnson era had a hugely disproportionate number of daughters to sons mean those players were attractive at 7 years of age? From the evidence of photos in the match programme, either their looks had deteriorated grossly with age (leaving aside wear and tear on the pitch), or their wives must have been incredibly attractive at seven to engender the effect being discussed! If physically fit and strong men, such as rugby players, do have marginally more daughters than sons, might this effect explain how the gender ratio recovers so quickly after a world war has decimated such men from a poulation? Those that remain inevitably produce extra sons .....