The impact of sex selection and abortion in China, India and South Korea

March 14, 2011, Canadian Medical Association Journal

In the next 20 years in large parts of China and India, there will be a 10% to 20% excess of young men because of sex selection and this imbalance will have societal repercussions, states an analysis in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

A preference for sons in , India and South Korea combined with easy access to sex-selective abortions has led to a significant imbalance between the number of males and females born in these countries. The sex ratio at birth (SRB) – the number of boys born to every 100 girls – is consistent in human populations in which about 105 males are born to every 100 females. However, with the advent of ultrasounds that enable sex-selection, the sex ratio at birth in some cities in South Korea climbed to 125 by 1992 and is over 130 in several Chinese provinces from Henan in the north to Hainan in the south.

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," writes Professor Therese Hesketh, UCL Centre for International Health and Development, London, United Kingdom with coauthors.

In India, similar disparities exist, 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," state the authors. If the first or second born are girls, couples will often sex select to ensure the second or third child is a boy.

The societal implications mean 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% of unmarried people aged 28 to 49 are male, 97% of whom have not completed high school, and there are worries the inability to marry will result in psychological issues and possibly increased violence and crime.

Policy makers in China, India and South Korea have taken some steps to address the issue, such as instituting laws forbidding fetal sex determination and selective abortion, but more can be done.

"To successfully address the underlying issue of son preference is hugely challenging and requires a multifaceted approach," state the authors.

The relaxation of China's one-child policy, especially in rural areas, could have some impact on sex ratios. But more important is to change underlying and long-standing attitudes towards son preference. Public awareness campaigns have had an impact. In South Korea and China, awareness campaigns have helped reduce the sex ratio at birth (for example, 118 in 1990 in South Korea to 109 in 2004).

"However, these incipient declines will not filter through to the reproductive age group for another two decades, and the SRBs in these countries remain high. It is likely to be several decades before the SRB in countries like India and China are within normal limits," conclude the authors.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Teens likely to crave junk food after watching TV ads

January 15, 2018
Teenagers who watch more than three hours of commercial TV a day are more likely to eat hundreds of extra junk food snacks, according to a report by Cancer Research UK.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...

Your dishwasher is not as sterile as you think

January 13, 2018
(HealthDay)—Your dishwasher may get those plates spotless, but it is also probably teeming with bacteria and fungus, a new study suggests.

Study reveals what sleep talkers have to say

January 12, 2018
A team of researchers with members from several institutions in France has conducted a study regarding sleep talking and has found that most sleep talking is not only negative in nature, but involves a large amount of swearing. ...

3 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

bloodyanarch
not rated yet Mar 15, 2011
You would think this might create a push towards a more matriarchial society. It will be interesting to see the effects long term.
frajo
not rated yet Mar 15, 2011
You would think this might create a push towards a more matriarchial society. It will be interesting to see the effects long term.
This preference for sons is already going on for centuries. While they had no ultrasound method in former times, they always had the kill method for newborns and (in India) for widows.
pubwvj
not rated yet Mar 15, 2011
This isn't news. I've seen this coming for decades as a result of culture and policy. I would suggest they take a good hard look at other cultures that have an excess of males...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.