The Causes and Effects of Gender Imbalance in Asia
By Tom Farrer
Throughout this paper I will focus on the phenomenon of the gender imbalance in Asia. I will begin by assessing the current situation and researching the various causes which have led to it. I shall then analyse the possible consequences to follow and conclude with an outlook to the future.
According to the United Nations the recommended sex ratio at birth (SRB) for a country is 107, meaning that for every 100 females born, 107 males are born . The average SRB for industrialised countries lies between 104 and 106 , therefore looking at the figures for many Asian countries, we can see that something is clearly wrong. With many countries where the SRB is well above average, the most affected are: China, with an average of 120 boys for every 100 girls born; Taiwan, with 119 boys to 100 girls; Singapore, 118 boys to 100 girls; South Korea, 112 boys to 100 girls; and parts of India with 120 boys to 100 girls. Even as early as 1990, Nobel Prize Laureate, Amartya Sen, recognised that Asia had over 100 million “missing women” . The purpose of this paper is to find out what has caused such an imbalance and what consequence it will have in the future. As they are two of the most affected countries, I shall focus primarily on China and India when answering these questions.
These, as well as many other Asian nations, have a particular cultural aspect in common, which is relevant to this phenomenon: son preference. The reasons for this preference are primarily two-fold. Firstly, in China in particular, a son is seen as a legacy, important and valued for carrying on the family name. Secondly, in many Asian nations, where the social security system is either limited or non-existent, he is also a support for parents in their old age. The daughter, on the other hand, is often seen as a financial burden, which needs to be fed but which will then most often marry into her husband’s family and therefore be of no economic advantage to her own parents. Known as patriolocality, this is especially common in India, where, subsequent to the wedding, the wife will move into her new husband’s house and live with his family. In return for keeping her, the wife’s family will pay a certain amount of money (known as a dowry) at the time of the wedding and also irregularly thereafter. This dowry system can be very straining on the family that has to pay and is one reason a daughter is often seen as more of a burden and less economically valuable than sons. As a result of this, the female infant mortality rates in these countries are well above average, due to people either underfeeding daughters in order to preserve food for their sons, or worse, if they cannot afford to keep their daughters, killing them. The average female infant mortality rate in Europe is 7.5 per 1000 females born, whereas in Asia it is 44 per 1000 births.
Looking at China, a country in which this mentality was already deeply embedded into the society, the introduction of the infamous “One Child Policy” would have an obvious impact. Implemented in 1979 by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in order to control the country’s population, the policy limited couples to having only one child, with fines varying from 5,000 to 20,000 RMB and often forced abortions. The policy has since been altered to allow for rural families to have a second child if the first is female. Nevertheless, as the graph below shows, it greatly worsened the SRB disparity:
The results of the one child policy are clear to see. With such a preference for sons rather than daughters and then limited to only having one child, it goes without saying that couples would try to ensure that their only offspring is a boy. Therefore, with this situation and mentality in mind, imagine the effect that a machine, which enables one to tell the gender of a child before its birth, would have in China as well as many other Asia societies.
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