Abortions for sex selection in India

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The Lancet has a new article (unfortunately blocked by pay wall so I'm working from the summaries) about the question of missing women in India:
Researchers based in Canada and India looked through data from a national survey, conducted among 1.1 million households in 1998, and at information about 133,738 births that took place in 1997.

They found that in cases where the preceding child was a girl, the gender ratio for a second birth was just 759 girls to 1,000 boys.

And when the two previous children were girls, this ratio fell even further, to 719 girls to 1,000 boys.

On the other hand, when the preceding child or children were male, the gender ratio among successive births was about the same.

Based on the natural sex ratio in other countries, around 13.6-13.8 million girls should have been born in India in 1997 -- but the actual number was 13.1 million.

The implication, of course, is that women are using ultrasound for sex determination followed by selective abortion. This data is pretty suggestive, particularly as the effect seems to get stronger after two previous female children, which is the opposite of what you would expect if biased birth ratios were the result of some systematic bias in the women's physiology, like, say Emily Oster's hepatitis theory. The other piece of suggestive evidence is the fact that the effect is stronger from educated women, who presumably have more access to ultrasound and abortions.

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10 Comments

Wow. Those numbers are not exactly subtle.

If your conjecture regarding education is correct, it is rather depressing, since one would hope that with education comes not only wealth but enlightenment.

Of course, it's all relative. Perhaps even more elective abortions of females would be performed among the uneducated, were it not for their lack of means.

Isn't this "problem" likely to be self-correcting in the long term? If a large surplus of boys is born, wouldn't that tend to increase the social value of girls enough to start to even things out in the next generation?

Well, I didn't say it was a problem. I'm just talking about what the data seems to show. That said, while my intuition about this beign self-correcting tends to agree with yours, I've seen concerns raised about the social effects of having populations with large numbers of young, unpaired males.

Unfortunately it may take another generation or more for things to change. Educated women still have live-in uneducated in-laws. Other cultural norms need to change too: daughters are "given away", i.e. no sons = end of line.

The situation is not helped by sons who side with their parents (out of reverence and fear of being disinherited.)


Here's a (mistitled) map that shows the ratio of male children aged 0-6 to the total male population. Note the correlation with male/female ratio map.

Note that the research only looked at scientific methods for determining gender before birth. In India, there are many ayurvedic practitioners who also will predict the gender of the child based on diagnosing the pulse of the mother. It's not as good as ultrasound, but it is nearly free and is thus available to many more couples. I have never seen any research on accuracy, but I know a practitioner who got 90% over 10 readings.

Why do you say it only looked at scientific methods? I don't have access to the article directly, but as far as I can tell, the research only looked at outcomes, not at how the women behaved at all. The relationship to ultrasound is that it's known that ultrasound is used at least sometimes for gender determination and abortion, so this is evidence that something of the sort is going on quite frequently.

As far as the accuracy of Ayurvedic methods, a little Googling doesn't turn up any data one way or the other. However, I don't find a report of 90% accuracy over 10 readings that remarkable. Your chance of getting 9/10 right purely by chance over any particular set of 10 trials is just under 1%. Anyone who does a reasonable number of readings is quite likely to be able to turn up at least one run of 10 with 90% accuracy.

I'm actually a little curious about what the ratio of male-female births for parents with 2 previous female children is in the US and Europe.

I read about that recently. (Cannot recall where.) We tend to keep going, hoping for a boy, more than for a girl. There is also the odd coorelation between having girls and an increased chance of divorce. Sex-selection abortions here, however, appear to favor girls. (Read that somewhere else, a while back.)


My guess is that the girl-divorce relationship is driven by maternal stress--not that I know anything relevant about the biology.

My old post about daughters and divorce can be found at http://www.rtfm.com/movabletype/archives/2003_10.html#000502

the URL posted by EKR returns the message, "The requested URL /movabletype/archives/2003 was not found on this server."

Please, EKR, repost the information.

TIA

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