Gender Imbalance in China Due to
Sex-Selection Abortion, Study Concludes
By Randall K. O'Bannon, Ph.D.
normal ratio of the sexes at birth is between 103 and 107 males for
every 100 females. In China, a new study tells us that the ratio at
birth in 2005 was 120 males for every 100 females. In that year, the
study reports, males under the age of 20 exceeded the number of
females by more than 32 million.
reason? According to “China’s excess males, sex selective abortion,
and one child policy: analysis of data from 2005 national
intercensus survey,” the imbalance “is attributed almost entirely to
couples’ decisions to abort female fetuses.” Quite directly, the
authors write, “Sex-selective abortion accounts for almost all the
excess males,” which has grown in number steadily since 1986 “as
ultrasound tests and abortion became more available.”
authors, two Chinese university professors and a London health
researcher, analyzed data on nearly five million people age 20 and
younger from all of China’s provinces, autonomous regions, and
municipalities, and all 2,861 of its counties. Data from rural,
town, and urban areas were included. The study appeared in the April
9, 2009, online edition of the British Medical Journal.
enormous gender imbalance is a product of several factors. According
to the authors, especially in the area of South and East Asia, there
is a traditional preference for sons. In the past, this sometimes
manifested itself in female infanticide or abandonment. With the
advent of ultrasonagraphic technology, and the widespread
availability of abortion, the elimination of many of the females
comes before birth.
factor, the outcome of communist social planning, is China’s “one
child policy,” which tries to control population growth by limiting
couples to one child, which includes forced abortion. The authors
say that implementation of that policy varies from province to
province, with measurable consequences.
with the strictest policy, the authors say, allow a limited number
of couples to have a second child if the first is a girl. Other
slightly more lenient provinces allow anyone to have a second child
if the first is a girl or the parents experience “hardship” (the
meaning is determined by local officials). In some of the remoter
provinces, couples are allowed to have a second child or, in rare
instances, a third, irrespective of sex.
authors found staggering imbalances in areas that allowed a second
birth when the first child was a girl. The couple would know that
this is the last baby they would be allowed to have. Given the ready
availability of ultrasound and the cultural preference for boys,
there were far more boys in these second births than girls.
provinces in this category had ratios of higher than 160 males for
every 100 females for second births, with two even reaching 190 or
higher, for births recorded between November 2004 and October 2005.
extremely rare occasion of a third birth (less than 5%), the ratios
are extremely lopsided in nearly every province, whatever the
policy. Overall, in the analysis of births from November 2004 to
October 2005, there were 157 males born for every 100 females in
China among the third born. In Beijing and three other provinces,
the ratio for third births was over 200 males for every 100 females.
(Beijing had the highest ratio, at 275.)
Generally, the authors claim, the more rural the area, the higher
the gender imbalance. In 2005 for children between the ages of one
and four, the ratio of males to females in rural areas was 126 to
100. Among the same age group in urban areas (those with 100,000 or
more non-agricultural population), the ratio was 116 to 100.
examining the ratios not only at birth but among the population as a
whole under the age of 20, the authors were able to argue more
forcefully that the gender balance was real. It was not merely the
product of girls being hidden from the authorities, since their
presence would become known when they show up for school or for
an official policy banning sex-selection abortion, but this is hard
to enforce when ultrasound and abortion are readily available and
there is the pressure of China’s one-child policy. The authors
write, “In the era of the one child policy the fact that the problem
of excess males in China seems to outstrip that of all other
countries is perhaps no surprise.”
the imbalance, the Chinese government launched a “care for girls”
campaign in 2000, changing laws related to inheritance and pushing
an educational program promoting gender equality, claiming evidence
of some success in targeted localities. However, the authors note
that “nothing can be done to prevent this imminent generation of
this writing, there is nothing on the latest study on the web sites
of NOW, NARAL Pro-Choice America, or Planned Parenthood. Perhaps
this is not surprising, given the dilemma it poses for these groups.