Women make up the majority of the world’s population. The reason can be explained by the fact that when women and men receive equal nutrition and medical care, women tend to live longer. They are also more resistant to disease in infancy. However, Sen (1990) noticed that the number of women to men was lower in Asia (in China and India, in particular) and North Africa compared to Europe, the USA and Japan. For example, it is estimated that by 2020, there will be 30 million more men than women reaching adulthood in China (Brooks, 2013). Why are there so many more men than women?
In some countries, there is a historical preference for boys. Boys are needed for physical labour to contribute to the family income. Women have fewer legal rights so may not be able to inherit land. In some countries a woman becomes the property of her husband’s family upon marriage and so will not be able to look after her own parents in old age. In China, for instance, families are only allowed one child and they usually want a son. With cheap ultrasounds, they are able to abort unwanted girls and try again for a boy (see The Economist, 2010). Women in many parts of the world do not have equal access to health care and adequate nutrition, resulting in a higher death rate for women than men. And many women are simply abused, killed or neglected so as to cause death. Sen (1990) estimated the number of ‘missing’ women and girls to be around 100 million.
Note: This case study is based on an article written in 1990 by the Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen. The article, entitled ‘More than 100 Million Women Are Missing’, appeared in the New York Review of Books and can be accessed at: www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1990/dec/20/more-than-100-million-women-are-missing/
Answer the following key questions:
How can countries raise the value of girls in order to decrease the number of ‘missing’ women?
How can female education help?
What are the future implications of the current trend in the sex ratio?