A hard-hitting, eye-opening study that not only paints a dire future of a world without girls but traces the West’s role in propagating sex selection.
In her debut, Beijing-based Science correspondent Hvistendahl delves deeply into the causes of the vanishing of girls in Asia and Eastern Europe and looks beyond the traditional explanation of infanticide and abandonment. In fact, girls are simply not being born—demographers calculate that 163 million potential girls have been eliminated in Asia alone through ultrasound and abortion, the technological advancements of the West. A natural sex ratio at birth is 100 girls to 105 boys--nature compensates for the fact that more boys tend to die young due to dangerous behavior, wars, exhaustion, etc. Even a slight deviation from this natural balance toward boys can have enormous repercussions in a society, leaving a surplus of males unable to find mates, introducing instability, violence and the possibility of extinction. Astoundingly, the sex ratio in China is 121 boys to girls, in India 112. The skewed gender imbalance has also swept Vietnam, the Caucasus and the Balkans—all developing countries where the status of women is supposed to have improved as the countries got richer. Yet traditional beliefs—boys take care of their parents and the ancestral graves, girls need a large dowry for marriage and are a burden—are deeply ingrained in these societies, even still among Asian immigrants in America, whose sex ratio is also skewed toward boys. By the mid-1980s, the high-quality second trimester ultrasound arrived; despite laws passed proscribing its use in sex selection in China, India and elsewhere, doctors capitulated to patients’ needs—and money. Western doomsayers and scientists set up the alarm by the late 1960s about world overpopulation, and naively (or sinisterly, as the author hints) endorsed sex selection even then as an effective form of birth control, setting the groundwork for future crisis.Hvistendahl’s important, even-handed exposé considers all sides of the argument and deserves careful attention and study.