In the delivery room, the (slight) odds are that a newborn is a baby boy, not a girl. Males make up 51.3 percent of live births in the U.S., a rate that has remained about constant for the past seven decades. Experts assumed that this male-skewed sex ratio began at conception, but a new analysis of fetal records shows that the chances overall of finding a boy or a girl start out at 50–50 and change over the course of pregnancy—leaning female, then male, then female again as nine months pass.

In the most comprehensive study of its kind to date, biologist Steven Hecht Orzack of the Fresh Pond Research Institute in Massachusetts and his collaborators analyzed roughly 36 million fertility treatment records, prenatal tests, induced abortions and U.S. Census data points. They discovered several nodes at which the sex ratio wavered from 50–50. Those vacillations most likely arise because of genetic and chromosomal abnormalities that cause natural abortions at various stages of gestation, write the study's authors in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.

“This is basic knowledge about human pregnancy that we didn't have before,” Orzack says. “Demographers, developmental biologists, and many more can all get something out of this study.”