Updated: 16 March 2015



Excess of male over female births, 1950-2100

Source: United Nations Population Division, WPP2012

In China and India far more boys are born than girls. In the 5-year period between 2005 to 2010 China had approximately 47 million male births, but only 40 million female births - some 6.8 million more male than female births. During the same period India had 6.6 million more male than female births.

This is an outcome of the widespread male preference in Asian societies. In China, this preference is primarily due to the belief that family tradition can live on only through male offspring. This is amplified by China's "one child" family planning program, which still puts enormous pressure - particularly on urban residents. If a first pregnancy is a girl, the pressure is great for an abortion to make sure that the "only" child will be a boy. In India, male preference is primarily an outcome of the extremely low status of women, which is deeply ingrained in social and cultural values.

Traditionally, the uneven sex ratio at birth was achieved by infanticide - where female babies were killed or exposed to harsh environments shortly after birth. Today, selective abortion is usually the method of choice in China and India to prevent unwanted female babies. A certain percentage of "missing girls" may also be due to underreporting in the population census.

Apart from the horrendous brutality of selective abortion or infanticide, which violate the most basic human rights, the "missing girls" also create serious social problems in those Asian societies. In some (rural) parts of India and China sex ratios at marriage age are so uneven, that large numbers of young men cannot find brides. This "marriage squeeze", which is primarily driven by the unequal sex ratio at birth, is amplified by selective rural-urban migration of women.


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Creative Commons License "China-Europe-USA - Human Development: Demography" by Gerhard K. Heilig is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. Published: 2004; Revised: 2015