160 Million Missing Girls

Mara Hvistendahl has written a fantastic new book called Unnatural Selection in which she identifies a problem that not only has profound implications for individuals but also countries and cultures. It isn’t just a people problem but also a serious demographic problem. The problem is rather simple to understand: Since the late 1970’s over 160 million girls have been aborted for no other reason than their gender.

Left alone human beings will bear 105 boys for every 100 girls. This ratio will produce cultures with the “right” amount of men and women to have a well functioning society. But human beings are making decisions that have radically changed the ratio so that in some cases more than 120 boys are born per one hundred girls. Over time this is producing societies in which women are scarce. Although the severest problem lies in China and India, gender selection is spreading even to populations within the United States.

Here are a few random tidbits that I found particularly interesting…

1. Why do some societies prefer boys? One reason is cost since families are expected to pay dowries to accompany their daughters in marriage. Hvistendahl tells of a billboard in India advertising sex selective abortions that reads “Better 500 rupees now than 5,000 later.” In other words the cost of an abortion is cheaper than paying off a future husband.

2. Some cultures have always preferred boys but it wasn’t until the advent of the ultrasound in the early 1980’s that most parents around the world had a reliable way to know the gender of their unborn baby.

3. The idea of sex selective abortions was promoted by the West out of fear of over population. In the late 1960’s Paul and Anne Ehrlich wrote The Population Bomb in which they predicted a world crisis due to the lack of resources to care for the growing population. To mitigate against the perceived crisis the United States government and Planned Parenthood cooperated with the United Nations to promote abortion and other “family planning” options.

4. Nations in which there are more men than women are more violent.

5. The gender imbalance means that there aren’t enough eligible women for men to marry. This has led to much of the human trafficking that goes on today.

6. The author is very explicit in saying that she doesn’t think abortion is the problem. It’s only sex selective abortion that she’s against. Now something about that sounds silly to me. It’s as if she’s saying that it is fine to be pro choice on whether to have a baby or abort but she’s not pro choice when it comes to selecting the gender of the child. That doesn’t pass the laugh test. Even if unintentionally, this book makes a strong pro-life argument.

Unnatural Selection is exceptionally well written and quite interesting. I highly recommend it. See Ross Douthat’s response to the book (he has several posts that are worth reading) along with an article in the WSJ.

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