The Skewed Sex Ratio

A report in the Indian Express of Oct 19th Where has the girl child gone? starts off with

The booklet cover says it all: Missing. Released by the United Nations Population Fund or UNFPA, it maps the declining child sex ratio (in the age group 0 to 6) in the country: 20 pages talk of the last decade’s grim reality of the ‘missing girl’ child.

The national average dropped to 927 girls per 1000 boys in 2001 from 945 per 1000 in 1991. And Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh had a child sex ratio of less than 800 girls for every 1000 boys.

According to UNFPA, reasons for the decline have been attributed to the determination of the sex of the unborn child or foetus and eliminating the foetus when found to be female.

The breast beating about the skewed sex ratio in India has always puzzled me. What is all this bitching and moaning about, really? Why don’t these people analyse the situation in its entirety?

Consider the facts:

A. India is overpopulated.

B. Girls are valued less than boys.

C. Neglect of an unwanted child is a greater evil than the aborting of a foetus.

D. The lower supply of women of marriagable age will increase their ‘price’ leading to a ‘negative dowry’.

E. The lower supply of women would retard population growth.

A little reflection on the facts leads one to conclude that the skewed sex ratio is a consequence of other underlying facts such as resource constraints, exhorbitant cost of dowry for getting daughters married, female illiteracy, and so on. Poor families have severe resource constraints, ranging from calories to clothing to education. If sons have a greater net present value (due to their future earning capacity), girls are disadvantaged in the share that they get of the limited resources.

It all boils down to the fact that this is a second-best world. There are multiple problems which conspire to create the skewed sex ratio. Merely addressing the effect leads to idiotic policy recommendations such as banning the determination of the sex of a foetus. One unforunate consequence of that ban could well be the increase in the number of new-born female infants killed, or worse still, chronic neglect of the unwanted girl child.

So what should be the policy response? Either remove all the distortions that lead to the effect or do nothing. For instance, enforce a ban on dowry, enforce a strict limit on the number of pregnancies a woman can have, provide information and materials for effective contraception, increase the marriage age so as to delay the first pregnancy, enforce compulsory and free education for all children, and so on.

All the above may be more than there are resources for. So as a first step, the policy should be to let people make their own decision whether to have a girl child or not by aborting female foetuses. Collectively, it is a rational decision made under the existing constraints.

Of course, if a particular group goes overboard and has no female children, they should be awarded the Darwin Prize for having selected themselves out of the gene pool.



Categories: Population

9 replies

  1. I agree, there is no known intelligent policy in an area like this. But watch out for the consequences. Maybe the ‘hidden hand’ isn’t so perfect after all.

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  2. Such a Policy also encroaches on an individual’s right to plan their own family. In a democracy, people make decisions to maximise their own interests. Taking away this liberty to plan their own family is dangerous.

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  3. Till the time, women are picturised as victims and helpless, society will not stop considering women as burden.

    Why does not educated and rich women marry down (ie. marry a guy who is younger by a few years, less educated, earns less or unemployed)? Does not women’s tendency to marry up creates distortions in supply demand equations ?

    Have you heard of how state tortures innocent old and sick people in false dowry harassment cases ?
    Elder Abuse by State of India

    Do you know that 90% of dowry harassment cases are false ?

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  4. It has been found that spiritual people do not kill their unborn children. But does the pseudo-liberals and feminists are against spirituality and hence they will not use it to convince people against female foeticide.

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  5. Declining sex ratio is the people’s contibution to their country but why do they forget that India cant walk far on one leg ….what it can do is just limp.I must say girl child discrimination specially in the land of Durga and Saraswati is shameful…terribly shameful.

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  1. Atanu Dey on India’s Development » Sex selection in a Second-Best World
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