Skewed Demographics: How the Chinese gender imbalance is set to have a profound effect upon its future

8 May

Under normal circumstances, the sex ratio within a human population will reveal that around 105 males are born for every 100 females. However in China a rather different demographic outlook is presented, with the actual figures deviating dramatically from this thesis. Indeed according to the Chinese academy for Social sciences, an estimated 119 boys are born for every 100 girls. Worryingly, whilst these numbers reflect the national average, there are some predominantly rural area where sex ratios have become skewed yet further, reaching as high as 130 in some cases As a direct result of these development, there is predicted to be over 24 million men who are unable to find themselves a spouse in 2020. Consequentially, there are fears that a number of the problems China already faces could be further accentuated in the future, due to the rising dissatisfaction of the young male population.

The term ‘China’s Missing Women’ was originally coined by the Indian economist Amartya Sen during the 1980s to reflect the unexplained absence of large numbers of women from multiple age cohorts. In 2009 the number was estimated to stand at 41 million, equivalent to 6.7% of China’s female population. Unless this issue is addressed, the proportion of excess males is forecast to expand further and at a previously unprecedented rate. If these predictions were to materialise, the ramifications would be huge, extending into all aspects of Chinese social, economic and political life.

These startling statistics concerning the numbers of ‘Missing Women’ can largely be attributed to the general favourability shown towards sons, a trait that is deeply embedded within Chinese society. With the bloodline traditionally passing through the male side, women that ‘marry out’ are expected to go and join their husbands family and subsequently help care for their in laws, even if it is at the expense of their own parents. In addition, men are seen as the predominant wage earners, especially in rural areas where agrarian economies often exist, meaning that they are far more likely to possess the means to financially support their parents in their old age.

Of course the implementation of the infamous ‘One Child Policy during the 1970s served only to further accentuate the gender gap that was already in existence, with some parents going to great lengths to ensure that their solitary child was male. A recent surge in the availability of ultrasound scanners had lead to a dramatic rise in the instances of sex selective abortions. This improvement in technology enables the gender of a foetus to be identified at four or five months gestation, allowing parents to exert their preferences in a legal fashion. It can be no coincidence that in 1982, before health clinics possessing these facilities became widespread, the sex ratio stood at a relatively moderate 107.6 yet, by 2000, this figure had risen substantially to 119.0.

Furthermore, it has become apparent that excess female mortality during infancy is another challenge that needs to be overcome if the gender imbalance is to become rectified. Globally, normative life tables show that the Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) is likely to be 1.2 times higher amongst a male cohort than it would be for the female equvlent. Somewhat unsurprisingly China again appears to be an anomaly, with on average 31.8 out of every 1000 females born dying before the age of four, with the corresponding number amongst males dropping to 25.3. Such statistics can be primarily attributed to two underlying determinants. Firstly, they are reflective of the lowly status held by young girls within the family and the wider community, a notion which is especially true within rural areas. As a result, few are offered the level of care given to their male siblings and consequently receive an unequal distribution of the family’s resources. Secondly, cases of abandonment and infanticide have grown sharply since the implementation of the One Child Policy. Again, this development is especially evident in rural regions, where couples lack the technology to predetermine the sex of their baby amd are instead forced to dispose of them after birth. Whilst it must be noted that a number of constitutional laws have been introduced in an effort to eliminate these practices, it is generally acknowledged that significant progress is yet to be achieved.

On top of this, the relative dearth of females within the population has frequently been cited by China’s critics as an example of the state’s human rights violations. Although the government is striving to make improvements in this area, there are undoubtedly still too many regions within China where girls are not provided with an equal chance of survival nor afforded the same respect as their male counterparts. When looking at the issue from a broader perspective, even those whom do survive are generally seen as inferior, resulting in a narrowing of the life opportunities potentially available to them.

The domestic consequences that are brought about as a result of these gender imbalances have the potential to cause extensive damage on a number of levels. From a social standpoint, there appears to be a significant amount of evidence that is indicative of a correlation between a masculinized young population and rising levels of crime. For example, a paper for the Institute of the Study of Labor asserted that every 0.01 increase in the sex ratio coincided with a 3% increase in property and violent crime between 1988 and 2004. Whilst direct causality cannot be confirmed, a vast majority of unmarried men in China possess little or no education, meaning that without either career prospects or the stability provided by a family, they are more likely to turn to crime. With this being the case, it can be inferred that there will be a detrimental impact upon the economy, due to the associated crime related productivity shocks.

Moreover, shortages of marriageable women have led to a suppression of sexual energies amongst young Chinese men. Consequentially, there has been a rapid expansion of the Sex Industry, with it being estimated that as many as 10 million women were engaging in paid sex of some kind by the year 2000. This escalation of risky sexual practices has subsequently heightened the risk of exposure to sexually transmitted diseases, which has been demonstrated by the swelling spread of HIV and AIDS amongst single men since the 1990s. Indeed, such a development is indicative of the indirect impact skewed demographics are having on the health of the population.

Sources:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3455542/pdf/10815_2004_Article_375549.pdf
http://www.pnas.org/content/103/36/13271.long
http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF03032209#page-1
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1728-4457.2006.00149.x/pdf
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/8451289.stm
http://www.thechinastory.org/chinas-gender-imbalance-and-its-economic-performance/
http://wber.oxfordjournals.org/content/23/3/399.full.pdf+html

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One Response to “Skewed Demographics: How the Chinese gender imbalance is set to have a profound effect upon its future”

  1. Gavin May 20, 2014 at 2:31 am #

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