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India's Worsening Gender Imbalance

Photo: iStockphoto

We’ve written a lot about gender on this blog, and the preference for boys over girls has been a hallmark of Asian societies for centuries. This has led to large gender imbalances across much of Asia, particularly in China and India. In China, there are 119 boys born for every 100 girls. According to India’s recently completed census, among children six and under, there are only 914 girls counted for every 1,000 boys.
Natural sex rates lead to a more even sex ratio at birth, suggesting gendercide, i.e. that female fetuses are being aborted. China’s one-child policy has also exacerbated the problem since it was implemented in 1980. But while the gender imbalance has stabilized in China, it’s widening in India, and is at its worst since record-keeping began in 1947.
Harvard economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen was one of the first to bring serious attention to this issue in the early 1990s. Today, researchers are worried that large swaths of unmarried men from China’s most rural provinces, where gender imbalances are the greatest, will be a heavy burden on social security as they age. There is also concern that gender imbalance drives prostitution and human trafficking.
Despite a ban on ultra-sounds for the sole purpose of determining a fetus’s sex, in India the problem is spreading, and it is now the richest provinces that have the largest imbalances. As The Economist points out: “If sex ratios stay the same, 600,000 missing girls this year will become, in 18 years’ time, over 10m missing future brides.”