15 March 2011

Sex selection gender skew in East raises concerns

by Kate Melville

A preference for sons in China, India and South Korea combined with easy access to sex-selective abortions means that some provinces in China have 130 males for every 100 females, leading demographers to estimate that there may be a 20 percent "excess" of young men in the near future.

The analysis, in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, notes that in 2005 in China, "it was estimated that 1.1 million excess males were born across the country and that the number of males under the age of 20 years exceeded the number of females by around 32 million."

Study author, Professor Therese Hesketh, adds that similar disparities exist in India, with sex ratios as high as 125 in Punjab, Delhi and Gujarat in the north, but normal sex ratios of 105 in the southern and eastern states of Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. "A consistent pattern in all three countries is the marked trend related to birth order and the influence of the sex of the preceding child," she explained. "If the first or second born are girls, couples will often sex select to ensure the second or third child is a boy."

The skewed gender ratio means that a significant percentage of the male population will not be able to marry or have children because of a scarcity of women. In China, 94 percent of unmarried people aged 28 to 49 are male, 97 percent of whom have not completed high school. The inability to marry will result in psychological issues and possibly increased violence and crime, suggests the study.

Hasketh notes that the relaxation of China's one-child policy, especially in rural areas, could have some impact on sex ratios, but she believes that changing the long-standing attitude towards son preference is the key. "Public awareness campaigns have had an impact but these improvements will not filter through to the reproductive age group for another two decades," she concluded.

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Source: Canadian Medical Association Journal