A Book I Was Proud to Blurb: Unnatural Selection

The subtitle is Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men. The book is forthcoming, and the author is Mara Hvistendahl, who was a very good research assistant of mine some years back. Mara transcribed many hours of interview tape with an economist named Steve Levitt for a profile I was writing. She has become an excellent reporter and writer; here’s my blurb:

“Yes, it’s a rigorous exploration of the world’s ‘missing women,’ but it’s more than that, too: an extraordinarily vivid look at the implications of the problem. Hvistendahl writes beautifully, with an eye for detail but also the big picture. She has a fierce intelligence but, more important, a fierce intellectual independence; she writes with a hard edge but no venom — rather, a cool and hard passion.”

Much to learn here, including:

The best way to predict whether a certain part of India has a high murder rate, indeed, is to look at its sex ratio. Even a high poverty rate doesn’t correlate as strongly.


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  1. Mark says:

    Don’t men have multiple wives in India? Seems like a natural consequence to me.

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    • AVX says:

      Mark, There is a law against polygamy in India (with exception for Muslims). Even with the exception for Muslims, the incidence of polygamy is rare.

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      • PaulD says:

        The idea that one should accrue certain rights (e.g., polygamy) by virtue of his religion seems so very wrong-headed to me.

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    • Amar says:

      Mark – your ignorance about India shines through the wonderful one line assessment you’ve made of this deep-seated socio-cultural issue. Polygamy is as prevalent in India as in the ‘civilized’ West. And no, we’re not the Middle-East.

      However, that doesn’t detract from the fact of gender bias being highly prevalent in India, spews issues such as higher crime rate, including inhuman crimes such as female foeticide, and seems to be hurtling our society towards near-certain disaster.

      As with many other things, the paradox of female divinity in Hindu culture (- majority population) vs gender bias stares unblinkingly at us, an irrationality threatening the very core of our existence.

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  2. AaronS says:

    While the preference for boys over girls may come from some ancient need for more manpower in the fields and more able-bodies to protect the homestead, I wonder if our current preference for boys (at least in very modern societies) does not stem somewhat from the notion that a boy will “carry on the family name,” while a girl becomes part of another family (at least to some degree)?

    I wonder what would happen if the married name of Joe Smith and Sue Jones was Smith-Jones (or Jones-Smith)? That is, not only would the family name be carried on (in a way), but even a girl’s maiden name would be carried on.

    I have no solid reason for believing this other than I’ve noticed the tendency in me and other men to like the idea of our names being carried on.


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  3. Mike B says:

    I wholeheartedly support Asia and its aggressive embrace of sexual selection. Not only will this begin to help those countries reign in their population problems, the social instability caused by large numbers of unattached men will hamper their ability to compete against the United States in the future. It will also be interesting to see if the growing scarcity of females will increase their relative bargaining power and decrease or even reverse demands for dowry.

    Reasons for male preference are probably economic. Where economic opportunities are closed to females, only male children will have the ability to earn a living through formal employment. Where medical care is poor women will tend to die in child birth or related conditions making reliance on a female child for long term support a tenuous propitiation. Finally women are less able to engage in physical violence which is common in tribal societies where the rule of law is weak. Where sons represent soldiers that can be used to settle scores with rival bands, women represent only a vulnerability that must be defended.

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  4. PaulD says:

    As a pro-lifer it has always irked me that the only form of abortion condemned by NOW is sex selection abortion (as practiced, for example, in China). Apparently being against abortion because it takes an innocent life is unenlightened and paternalistic; being opposed to it because it will result in an unfavorable female/male ratio, however, makes perfect sense.

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  5. Jason says:

    PaulD, most support for legalized abortion I’ve seen is utilitarian in nature, so there’s no contradiction there.

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  6. Shane says:

    “The best way to predict whether a certain part of India has a high murder rate, indeed, is to look at its sex ratio. Even a high poverty rate doesn’t correlate as strongly.”

    Oh, I want to understand this!

    – Is it that men in disporportionately male regions tend to drift towards crime?

    – Because most violent criminals are men anyway, so increased male proportion of the population will naturally make the crime rate appear to increase?

    – Because high-crime regions tend to somehow lead parents to favour male children?

    – Something else? Do we have to buy the book to find out? :)

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    • Deb says:

      Because sexually frustrated men with no hope of a relationship or a family become even more frustrated, and then violent?

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