A Reversal of the “Missing Women” Phenomenon?

In 1990, Amartya Sen, a Nobel-prize winning development economist, called attention to Asia’s “missing women.” In Asia, where families historically preferred sons to daughters, there were significantly fewer women than men – about 100 million fewer women, in fact. The gap has been attributed to everything from sex-selective abortion to infanticide to the withholding of food and medical services. In at least one Asian country, however, there’s reason to believe the missing women phenomenon may someday disappear. South Korean parents, who have historically preferred sons, are now more likely to express a preference for daughters. There were 106.4 boys born for every 100 girls in 2008 in South Korea, compared to 116.5 boys born for every 100 girls in 1980. Lee Jeong Rim, a researcher at the Korea Institute of Child Care and Education, attributes the attitudinal shift to better social safety nets for the elderly: “Much of the responsibility to give economic support to the elderly has shifted to the social safety nets, and so the need to have sons have somewhat weakened.” (HT: Motherlode)[%comments]


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  1. EIleen Wyatt says:

    Those improved social services may be most useful to the excess men who can’t find wives and who therefore won’t have children to support them in their old age.

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  2. jkim says:

    This preference for girls has been developed in the last 10~15 years, due to a variety of factors.

    First, women’s wages and employment % have gone up, so women can technically support parents as much as men can.

    Second, economic reliance on children has been reduced, esp. with financial innovations like reverse mortgage being introduced.

    Third, the value of a grown child as an elder now comes from companionship as people live longer, fewer children, closer relationships with children, and more options for leisure (like traveling abroad, which was difficult until the late 80s in Korea)

    Fourth, as an extension of the “asset/liability” calculation of having a child, boys are more of a “liability” as traditionally the groom’s family is expected to pay for a married couple’s house, and with real estate prices going up, and most people living in nuclear families, this is a huge burden on parents. Moreover, it is hard for an umemployed male to get married while it is relatively easier for an unemployed female.

    Fifth, in relation to the first point, women have become more successful academically and now perform much better in school, esp due to behavior/socialization issues. This is a complex point, but generally parents feel there is less volatility with raising a girl in terms of academic outcome than raising a boy.

    Sixth, again in relation to employment, as South Korea has become more developed, more jobs are created in the service sector, which gives more equal opportunity to men and women than traditional manufacturing jobs which characterized the 1970s.

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