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date: 26 November 2022

Gender and Demography in Asia (India and China)free

Gender and Demography in Asia (India and China)free

  • Ravinder KaurRavinder KaurProfessor of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, Delhi, India


China and India together account for over one-third of the world’s population and both countries have considerably fewer women than men.. With long histories of skewed sex ratios and gender discrimination, these two countries have experienced a sharp decline in the birth of girls since the late 20th century. The unfolding and intimate relationship between gendered social structures, son preference, fertility decline, and new sex determination technologies has had serious demographic and social consequences, resulting in millions of “missing” girls, surplus males, bride shortages, and possibly, rising levels of gender violence. Even as women’s socio-economic indicators such as life expectancy, literacy, education, and fertility have improved, families continue to show a preference for sons raising questions between the tenuous relationship between development and gender equality. The advantages of raising sons over daughters, supported by traditional kinship, family, and marriage systems, appear to have got further entrenched in the era of neoliberal economies. Family planning policies of both nations, advocating small families, and the advent of pre-natal sex selection technologies further set the stage for the prevention of birth of daughters. Governments in both countries have since banned sex determination and launched policies and schemes to redress the gender imbalance and improve the value of the girl child. While these policies have not been highly successful, other social forces such as urbanization and rising educational levels are beginning to transform the way girls are perceived. A kernel of hope seems to be emerging at the beginning of the 21st century, as some improvement is visible in the sex ratio at birth in some of the worst affected regions in the two countries.


  • China
  • Demography/Family
  • Gender
  • South Asia
  • Women

Demographic Deficit of Women and Girls

China and India together account for over one-third of the world’s population with 1.43 and 1.37 billion people, respectively. While China still ranks first, India is expected to take over the mantle of the world’s most populous country after 2027. Women in India and China constitute a significant 36.2 percent of the world’s female population (in 2015); yet this number is far lower than would be expected had many girls not been sex selected out of the population in the last several decades. In 2010, China and India had by far the largest number of missing women (62 million and 43 million respectively) accounting for 84 percent of the world’s total.1

Amartya Sen captured this phenomenon in the phrase “missing women,” in an article titled “More Than 100 million Women Are Missing.”2 Since the beginning of the 21st century, however, the problem of “missing women” has transformed into one of “missing girls,” as more and more girls are lost to pre-natal sex selection enabled by new sex determination and sex selection technologies. Surprisingly, gender inequality in the shape of “missing girls” has worsened, as Asian economies have developed, the status of women improved, and as female educational attainment has risen. This new phase of “unwanted-ness” of daughters and the continuing preference for sons encapsulate a contemporary regime of gender discrimination that is an outcome of shifting social structures and political economies that determine the relative value of sons and daughters. Understanding the trajectory of sex ratios skewed in favor of males provides an important prism through which to examine the relations between gender and demography.

Understanding Skewed Sex Ratios

The overall sex ratio (SR), that is, the number of men relative to the number of women, is considered an important demographic indicator of the value of the two sexes. Since the overall SR can be influenced by several factors, including sex imbalances in migration, it is the sex ratio at birth (SRB) that is considered a more robust indicator of gender discrimination. The SRB is known to be reliably constant at 104–106 male births to 100 female births, across time and geography.3 Another measure, the child sex ratio (CSR), makes it possible to capture post-natal discrimination.4

In both countries, women’s life expectancy in the 21st century is higher than that of men; yet, attrition of females due to infanticide, sex-selective abortion, higher girl child mortality, and maternal mortality skews the SR in favor of males.5 China’s SRB was 115 in 2015 and India’s was close to 111 in the same year, pointing to large-scale discrimination against girls.6 Despite the recent shift to pre-birth discrimination through sex-selective abortion and other means, neglect continues to be an important cause of the fewer number of girls in Asia.7 In India, more girls under the age of six die due to deliberate neglect and in China, infant mortality (0–1) among girls is still higher than that of boys.8

Figure 1. Sex ratio at birth in China, India, and in the world, 1960–2020.

Courtesy of Christophe Z. Guilmoto (CEPED/IRD Université de Paris).

Continuities With the Past: Female Infanticide

China and India both have a history of son preference and skewed SRs stretching long back into their pasts. Accompanying son preference has been an aversion towards having too many daughters. Historically, the desired size and gender composition of the family was achieved either through infanticide or by giving up children for adoption or by simply abandoning them. Since more sons than daughters were desired in these patriarchal societies, the family size was generally curtailed at the expense of daughters. The British documented the practice of female infanticide in India in the late 18th century, noting that higher castes were more prone to getting rid of baby girls.9 A high incidence of female infanticide was also reported from China since the 18th century, with some regions of the country losing as much as 10–25 percent of girls to infanticide.10 Midwives were called upon to help parents to get rid of unwanted baby girls by drowning, suffocating, strangulating, poisoning, or exposing them to the cold. Girl babies could also be buried alive or simply abandoned.11 Neglect was another major method of getting rid of unwanted girls; depriving girls of nutrition, critical health care, and even love and emotional sustenance led to the death of many.

Although the traditional practice of female infanticide has considerably declined in both countries, discrimination against women and girls continues in some form or the other, as reflected in adverse SRs. In the middle of the 20th century, the SRB was still high in both countries (at 107–108), underlining the unequal status of women. Despite the slow but definite improvement in women’s circumstances, censuses of both countries began to reveal a dramatic decline in female births; China’s census conducted in 2000 and India’s in 2001 showed surprisingly high SRBs, alerting their respective governments as well as the global community to the high levels of pre-natal sex selection of daughters that was underway. China’s SRB saw a rapid rise reaching a peak of around 117 in 2005 while the peak in India approximated 111 in the same year.

Variations in Sex Ratio Patterns

The pattern of SRB imbalance is not uniform across regions in either country and varies by urban–rural, regional, provincial, and ethnic characteristics. At a broad level of comparison, while SRBs are worse in China’s rural areas, the opposite is the case in India.12 In China, there is a mixed regional pattern, with Han majority provinces of the south, southeast, central, and east China depicting an extreme dearth of girls. The best SRBs in 2010 were in the western provinces of Tibet and Xinjiang, and Beijing while the southern provinces of Anhui, Fujian, and Hainan showed very high SRBs in the range of 125–128.13

In India, imbalanced SRBs are more characteristic of the north-western region, with states such as Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and parts of Uttar Pradesh, as well as the capital city of Delhi depicting highly skewed CSRs.14 Peak SRBs in Haryana and Punjab (around 117) rivalled those of China in 2005. The southern and eastern regions of India have relatively better SRBs. Among religious communities, Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains have highly imbalanced SRs while Muslims and Christians tend to have better SRs.15 Higher castes tend to have more skewed SRs than lower castes although the gap is narrowing.16

High SRBs in both countries characterize not only backward or poorer regions but, surprisingly, some of the most prosperous areas. Thus, Guangdong province in the south of China and Jiangsu on the east coast, and Haryana and Punjab in the north of India, are prosperous but have high levels of daughter discrimination. Studies also show that richer and more educated families tend to sex select more; this is mainly due to greater access to sex selection technologies and greater awareness of the benefits of having smaller families.17 Since 2015 China’s SRB has shown an improvement, declining to 115 while India’s has stayed nearly constant at 109.18 The CSRs, however, have improved in both countries in the very provinces that had the worst SRBs earlier.19 Yet, these levels remain far below the normal SRB.

Fertility Decline, Sex Determination Technologies, and Missing Daughters

Fertility Decline

There is general agreement among scholars that the distortion in the SRs that began in the late 20th century was an outcome of the congruence of three factors—son preference, declining fertility, and the availability of new sex determination technologies.20 Rapid fertility decline has had a crucial role to play in decreasing the number of daughters being born. China’s fertility fell from 5.7 (children per woman) in 1960 to 1.6 in 2015; in India it fell from 5.9 to 2.4 during the same period. Thus, both countries have been successful in either controlling or reducing fertility although their populations remain large. The decline in fertility, however, came at a price—that of eliminating a significant number of girls. In 2010, 0.8 million girls were missing in China—this was a mere 0.1 million in 1980. Many of the missing girls were never registered and many were given up or taken away for adoption by family planning officials.21 According to some estimates, 12.1 million female fetuses were aborted in India between 1980 and 2010.22 An estimate for China puts the number at 500,000 to 600,000 sex-selective abortions per year since 1990 while 110,000 female infants per year were victims of premature death before their first birthday.23

With fertility decline, the SRB worsened because parents now wanted to ensure one or two sons within a smaller family size. This resulted in an intensification of son preference with daughters being edged out at third, second, or even the first birth order.24 In China, those who could have only one child, still wanted a son, as conditions for son preference reappeared with the return to a market economy and withdrawal of state social security. In India, parents wanted to ensure they had at least one or two sons, as goals of old-age support and social mobility could only be met through sons.25

Sex Selection Technologies

The role of new sex determination technologies in eliminating daughters cannot be overstated. Reproductive technologies that developed in the late 20th century enabled determination of the sex of the offspring during pregnancy, making sex selection possible by aborting the child of the undesired sex. Originally, meant to detect fetal abnormalities, procedures such as amniocentesis and ultrasonography became frequently deployed towards sex determination and abortion of female fetuses. People took to these new technologies—especially ultrasound—with great alacrity finding in them a way of fulfilling their family-building goals without the handicap of a large family.

The non-invasive technology of ultrasound spread rapidly from the 1980s onwards becoming available even in remote areas in both countries. The medicalization of pregnancy requiring frequent ultrasound checks and the legal availability of abortion provided cover for easy elimination of unwanted female fetuses. Laws prohibiting sex determination have since driven the practices of sex selection and sex determination underground. Newer and more sophisticated sex selection technologies such as pre-natal genetic diagnosis (PGD) combined with IVF (in-vitro fertilization), DNA weighted semen selection (sperm sorting), and surrogacy have since become available although these are more likely to be accessed only by richer sections of the population.26

Son Preference and Daughter Aversion: A Tale of Two Countries and Two Genders

Son Preference

Why are girls less preferred in these two rising economies? Gender roles, ideologies, cultural images and values, and social and economic processes associated with the two genders play a significant role in determining demographic outcomes.27 Although gender ideologies and traditions that privilege sons over daughters are often challenged by people in everyday life, they remain socially pervasive and symbolically powerful.

A shorthand used by scholars for these gender ideologies is the concept of “son preference,” embedded in social structures and political economy. The predominantly patrilineal kinship systems in these societies have long privileged sons over daughters. Patrilineal descent implied that sons were necessary to continue the lineage and patrilineal inheritance was linked to sons inheriting valuable land and other property. In the intergenerational contract that was primarily a parents–son contract, inheritance by sons was tied to support of parents in old age. Sons, therefore, continued to live with parents after marriage, worked on family farms or businesses, looked after parents in their old age, and gave birth to their own sons to continue the lineage into the future. In the contemporary period, families invest much more in expensive education for sons than daughters in order to ensure successful careers through which sons could enhance family fortunes and status.

In contrast, daughters move at marriage to live with or close to the husband’s family. This practice, known as patri-virilocal residence, was and remains common. After marriage, women contributed labor and children to their husbands’ families and could contribute little, if anything, to their own natal families. Daughters rarely inherited fixed or productive parental property and were not expected to provide old-age support to parents. Parents, therefore, had little incentive to raise daughters.28

Sons were also important in ritual and symbolic roles; in China, for conducting ancestor worship, while among Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains in India, sons were necessary for lighting the funeral pyre of the father, a crucial ritual that daughters were prohibited from performing. Thus, material, affective, and ritual economies disincentivized daughters while the incentives to have sons were many. The Chinese refer to raising a daughter as “watering the other’s garden” while Indians refer to them as “paraya dhan” (other’s wealth). Raising sons is seen as an “investment” while raising daughters is seen as “expenditure” or drain on the family’s wealth. In contrast to patrilineal and patriarchal societies, societies with bilateral or matrilineal kinship systems had less incentive to favor male children, reflected in normal SRBs in parts of China, India, and Southeast Asia.

Bride Price and Dowry

As adults, women’s (and men’s) value was, and is, determined by their “perceived” contribution to productive work. Systems of marriage exchange, such as bride price and dowry, are often linked to this. Scholars have conjectured that since women’s contribution to rice cultivation is higher, they are more valued for their labor in China and in south and east India. In wheat-growing northern India, women have a lesser role in agriculture and are therefore less valued.29 In China, women’s agricultural labor is visible and highly valued, and hence the Chinese pay bride prices to compensate the woman’s natal family for the loss of a productive member (while still retaining discrimination against the girl child). Women’s value in providing progeny to husbands’ families, as well as performing care-taking tasks vis-à-vis old in-laws was also factored into this. In China, although some dowry was given by the bride’s family to the groom’s family at the time of marriage, bride price far outweighed dowry.30

In contrast, the patrilineal and patrilocal areas of north-west India predominantly practiced a system of dowry. Goods and money were transferred to the groom’s family at the time of marriage and throughout the married life of a woman, as compensation for purportedly adding an unproductive family member.31 Upper castes often secluded their women and prevented their participation in labor outside the home. Even when women worked, their labor was kept invisible and remained unacknowledged, partly due to reasons of status.32 Bride price was prevalent in some hilly regions and among lower castes but this practice has slowly declined with the spread of dowry among all regions, castes, and communities, as upwardly mobile groups sought to emulate upper caste customs.33

The Hindu caste system also favored the practice of hypergamous marriage, with parents seeking to marry their daughters to higher-status grooms. Among the higher caste and classes, this necessitated larger dowries to make prestigious matches and, increasingly, to secure suitable grooms. Daughters were therefore less wanted in the northern and western regions of India due to compulsions of both “pride” and “purse.”34 They were seen as a drain on family resources and if families estimated that marrying them to higher-status grooms would be difficult and expensive, they killed them at birth.

For women, bearing sons was part of a “patriarchal bargain.”35 In the absence of their own property or resources, sons became a critical resource for a more valued social status, and security, in old age. Women without sons risked abandonment or feared that husbands would remarry in order to have sons. In both societies, women who gave birth to daughters could be subjected to verbal and physical abuse, and their status was lower than that of sisters-in-law who gave birth to boys.

Thus, a combination of patriarchy (system of male authority), patriliny (system of descent and property inheritance in the male line), patrilocality (residence with husband’s family), and related aspects of social structure led to the entrenching of various gender inequalities among the largely peasant agrarian populations of India and China. Due to the higher value and need for sons, distribution of intra-household resources—food and nutrition, health care and education, and other material goods—was and remains tilted largely in favor of sons. While many aspects of these social systems are in flux—large lineages, for example, have disappeared in China or are fighting to retain control, as in India filial piety is less ritualized, allocation of household resources towards education and health is gradually becoming more gender equal with daughters even receiving inheritance in some cases—gender inequalities continue be reproduced in the contemporary capitalist economy.36

In India, 27 percent of women are still married off before the legal age of eighteen years, denying them the chance to become economically independent.37 Education is calibrated as a path towards a good marriage rather than ensuring economic independence with marriage itself being cast as the main familial responsibility towards daughters. Norms of chastity before marriage persist and these result in women being considered burdens who need to be protected until they are married off honorably with large dowries.

While China equalized many aspects of a gender unequal social structure during the Mao era, inequalities re-emerged with the ushering in of a capitalist economy in the latter part of the 20th century. Discrimination against girl children, though less in China, continues with higher female child mortality and lesser entitlements to household resources.38 Female labor force participation rates declined, and traditional role expectations re-emerged with economic reforms. Women who are not married by their late twenties or choose not to marry are denigrated as “leftover women” and pressurized by families and state to marry.39

Governing Fertility: Population Policies in China and India

Historically, both countries made a significant political break with their pasts in the middle of the 20th century, adopting different models of development. The communist regime of the People’s Republic of China was established in 1949 while India gained independence from the British in 1947—and adopted a constitution and democratic form of government. The new political phase in both countries also initiated a new politics of reproduction, in which state ideologies shaped demography, most clearly through fertility policies. The larger framing of the politics of reproduction emanated from global (as well as local) political and ideological agendas and perspectives.

Mortality had already begun to decline in the middle of the 20th century with greater availability of modern medicine and health care—yet birth rates remained high. This led to a burgeoning of population in most parts of the developing world. The growing populations and increasing mass poverty in these countries created consternation in the Western world and led to the drumming up of a Malthusian specter of population outrunning food supply.40

Western powers came to believe that the quality of life on earth could only be preserved through population control. In the 1960s, the United States poured money into family planning programs pushing nations to adopt population control as a condition of foreign aid. The population program reached its apex in the 1970s and 1980s when United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) (now known as United Nations Population Fund) awarded its largest ever grants to support programs in India and China.

This launched one of the most ambitious social engineering projects of the 20th century. Elites and governments became fully convinced that if they had to tackle poverty and develop, they needed to control population growth. Both countries introduced family planning programs that eventually led to China’s draconian one-child policy (OCP) and the horrors of a brief period of forced, mass sterilizations of working class and minority community males in India.41 The focus shifted and has remained on female contraception and sterilization with the right to abortion being legally available in both countries. China, as in the case of other socialist countries, had liberalized abortion laws in the interest of women’s autonomy and health much before birth planning was introduced. India had introduced the MTP (Medical Termination of Pregnancy) Act as a response to reports of unsafe abortions as early as the 1970s. The liberal abortion laws helped facilitate sex-selective abortion of female fetuses from 1980s onwards as the new sex determination technology of ultrasound became widely available.

China’s One-Child Policy

China began its transition from high to low mortality between 1950 and 1965. In 1976, the government introduced a family planning policy emphasizing “later, longer, fewer,” referring to later marriage, having fewer children later, with longer gaps in-between. This was a reversal of Mao’s earlier view on population, “more people make the nation stronger.” The policy enforced a very high age at marriage—post twenty-five years for women and twenty-eight for men—as well as birth quotas; demographers are of the view that this was responsible for the steep decline in fertility witnessed in the 1970s.42 Despite fertility being more than halved, from 5.6 in 1970 to 2.7 in 1979, Deng Xiaoping, fearing that China’s large population would not allow it to progress economically, instituted the one-child policy (OCP) in late 1979. This spelled a significant shift to a “state birth planning program” in which the state dictated how many children a couple could have.

The OCP was a drastic measure for a society that valued children and depended on sons for labor and old-age support. The policy, although not as uniform as its name implies (it was relaxed in the 1980s to allow rural couples to have a second child if the first one was a daughter, and minorities were exempted), was at times implemented extremely harshly through surveillance of women’s pregnancies and forced abortions or fines in case the child was “out of plan.”43 Fines could be five to ten times the annual disposable income of a couple.44 As the policy came into effect, people were forced to do without sons, if the one child allowed turned out to be a daughter.

Resistance to the policy came in the form of rampant sex-selective abortions, abandonment or adopting out of daughters in order to have a chance at giving birth to a boy.45 Families also concealed daughters hoping to bring them back later, after a son had been born. The shift in China’s policy allowing rural couples to have a second child if the first one was a girl, formally re-inscribed son preference among the peasantry. Having a daughter was recognized by the state as a condition of “real difficulty.” Thus, son-necessity became further reinforced within changing socio-economic conditions while, residually, daughters became less important and even dispensable.

Although the fertility reduction goal of the Chinese government had been met by 1993, concern with growing numbers resulting from earlier larger cohorts, allowed continued rationalization and implementation of the OCP.46 China’s total fertility rate declined from 2.6 in 1980 to about 1.6 in 2005, bringing it below replacement levels. As fertility fell, the SRB rose continuously from 107 in the 1980s to 116 in 2005, indicating that the decline had come at the cost of eliminating a huge number of girls from the population. What happened in India was similar, though not as drastic.

India’s Family Planning Program

India launched its population policy soon after gaining independence from the British. It was the first country in the world to start an official family planning program (1951). Together with the first Five-Year Plan, it constituted part of the planning process for economic development.47 The initial rollout of the policy did not meet with much success and the population continued to grow at a high rate during the first three post-independence decades. People were unconvinced that fewer children would be beneficial in the face of high rates of child mortality and non-existent social security provisions. During the political emergency (1975–1977), the ruling prime minister, Indira Gandhi, and her son, Sanjay Gandhi, made attempts to achieve the state’s population reduction targets through penalization and forced sterilization of males. Special camps were set up and males belonging to working class and to the Muslim minority were especially targeted.48 This drive, however, resulted in a backlash with the ruling party being unseated from power. However, a key difference in the post-emergency phase was that efforts at population control shifted from a stress on male sterilization to relying almost entirely on female contraceptives and sterilization.

The Indian family planning policy championed a two-child norm depicting a girl and a boy as the ideal family. However, as fertility began to decline, people interpreted this to mean a “two-sons–one-daughter formula.” As more and more families came to accept the small family norm and reduced the number of children, the squeeze, as in China, fell on girl children. By the late 1980s, sex determination had become widely available in the country and the medical community colluded with parents to abort unwanted daughters. Small portable machines enabled sex determination even in remote areas, and increasingly, people shaped their families, less by infanticide and neglect, and more by pre-natal sex determination. Urged by outraged feminists and activists protesting sex determination and female feticide, the Indian government eventually brought a law in 1994 against sex determination.49

Planning Gendered Families and Female Agency

In both countries, women had traditionally little control over their fertility decisions. Despite gender equality being championed by “state feminism,” Chinese women were not the creators of their own reproductive lives. In India, women’s marital families directed and controlled their reproductive choices and lives. Families plan the number and sex composition of their children keeping in mind survival, the cost of raising children, as well as varied and expected returns from children. But there may be contention between couples as well as between generations over the number and sex of children to be birthed. While child-bearing couples may consider the costs of raising children, the older generation—their parents—may worry more about family continuity or old-age care. Thus, there is multiple agency in fertility decision-making. Between the states’ goals of population control and the family’s desire for sons, women had to enter a patriarchal bargain to subject their bodies to meeting these goals.

People in both countries largely bought into the family planning rhetoric of the state; in the case of China, state and national goals were privileged over individual reproductive rights. In India, the two-child family norm pushed by the state became accepted as the ideal modern family and as a way of appearing both civilized and patriotic.50 Shaping the family through sex determination and sex-selective abortions came to be seen as “modern” and “rational,” with little guilt associated with it in comparison with traditional methods of female infanticide or death through deliberate neglect.51 While stressing on smaller families, governments paid little attention to the fact that people would want mostly sons and would avoid having daughters. Thus, family planning policies inadvertently contributed to reinforcing the rationale for sex selection and the further devaluation of daughters.

Social Consequences of Imbalanced Sex Ratios

Although the SRB in China has improved somewhat post-2015, the enormous consequences of the gender imbalance continue to worry the government. The OCP has disrupted the family structure with an only child now becoming the caregiver of parents and grandparents, placing great pressure on only children to live up to filial expectations.52 The massive earthquake in 2009 in Sichuan province that led to the tragic death of over 5,000 school children, left many parents childless, bringing home the enormity of the consequences of the OCP.

As China’s demography unfolds, it is likely to face new problems with its below replacement level fertility. With a smaller working-age population and a larger ageing population, its “dependency ratio” will worsen.53 Concerns over the social consequences of the birth policy and worries about losing its competitive edge in the global economy have led the Chinese government to relax the OCP in 2015, allowing all couples to have two children.

With over three decades of skewed SRs, researchers and policymakers have now turned their attention to examining in detail some of the (unintended) social consequences of female adverse SRs. Attention has been focused on two highly visible phenomenon relating to men—the lack of marriage prospects of surplus males and the possible effect of too many men on rates of crime, especially gender crimes—with little focus on the implications for women’s physical and psychological health or the reassertion of gender inequalities.

Marriage Squeeze and Bride Shortages

A major effect of the SR imbalance is the production of “surplus males.” Estimates of surplus males and potential bachelors vary depending on predictions of how fast SRBs may return to normal. With decades of smaller female cohorts being born, a significant proportion of males face a dramatic deterioration in their marriage prospects. Demographers refer to this phenomenon as a “male marriage squeeze.”54 Estimates of the number of men likely to remain bachelors by 2055 are to the tune of 15 percent in China and 10 percent in India, if the SRB were to return to normal by 2020.55 An enormous number of males thus face a marriage crisis in these socially traditional societies.

Irrespective of the magnitude of the squeeze, bride shortages are a source of severe anxiety in societies characterized by “universal” or “compulsory” marriage, where the expectation is that every individual in the society would get married. Heterosexual marriage fulfills many biological and social needs and the unmarried generally have a low social status in both societies. In China, bachelor males are referred to as “guang gun” (bare branches) while in the north of India they are referred to as “chada” (a derogatory term for single men) or “malang” (aloof or loopy).56 Much of the ethnographic evidence from India and China shows that it is disadvantaged and lower-status men who are more likely to be left unmarried. Thus, men located in remote or mountainous regions of China are left without brides because women in these regions leave to marry men in more economically developed areas.57 While some men suffer the fate of being “involuntary” or “forced” bachelors, others would have to wait much longer to get married. An additional possible outcome is a rising age gap between spouses, as men marry women much younger than themselves.

Several adaptive strategies have been devised to cope with bride shortages. One is the revival of traditional practices; in India, brothers may cohabit with one wife in a practice known as “fraternal polyandry.” Although no longer socially acceptable, there is evidence that it has resurfaced in Haryana and Punjab, two of the states with the highest SRs in India. Some Chinese parents are resorting to the traditional practice of raising an adopted daughter as a bride for their son, the adopted girl being known as “tong-yangxi” (little daughter-in-law).58

The most popular method of coping with bride shortages, however, is acquiring brides from other regions or countries. Chinese men have been successful in procuring wives from North Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, North Korea, and Mongolia.59 While there are reports that these women are trafficked across borders and cases of abduction have been reported from within China, many such brides also migrate voluntarily from poorer countries or pooere regions of China to the richer coastal areas. Not all such marriages work out and women who are unable to adjust to their new surroundings may run away. Fraud marriages have also been reported in China, in which the women enter long-distance marriages only to run away after robbing the husband and his family.60

In India, long-distance marriage has the additional characteristic of being cross-cultural as most brides move from eastern and southern regions to the female deficit areas of the north and west. Due to great cultural differences of language, food and behavioral norms between the bride-sending and receiving regions the burden of adjusting to the local, highly patriarchal culture in the skewed SR areas falls on the brides.61

Such marriage migration is a form of spatial hypergamy in which women use marriage to move from poorer to richer areas, even though the men they marry may not be very well off. Critics of “bride import” see it as marriage trafficking or “bride buying” and as a form of exploitation of intimate, sexual, and reproductive labor of women in the context of an unequal world created by capitalism and neo-liberalism.62

Marriage Squeeze and Marriage Payments

The demographic disparity between the sexes in the marriage market can have an influence on “marriage payments” or wealth transfers that are known to take place at the time of marriage. The shortage of brides has driven up the bride price in China, with parents of grooms having to save more in order to be able to provide a bride price as well as to build a house; without these incentives, marriage is less likely.63

In India, the shortage of brides has sometimes led to a reversal of dowry, with men paying the marriage costs. Lack of demand for dowry explains the willingness of parents to marry their daughters to faraway grooms, where their daughters would have little natal support.64 Some support for dowry-reversal is noted in studies that show that dowry payments are lower in bride shortage areas.65

Yet, the shortage of brides is unlikely to place more power in the hands of women. The complexity of marriage markets may still sustain dowries to attain “suitable boys” in India.66 In many East Asian countries such as Japan, South Korea, and even in China, highly educated women are turning away from marriage to gain freedom from patriarchal obligations and an unchanging gender division of labor in the household, inadvertently worsening the marriage squeeze. In China, unmarried women are referred to as “leftover women” and there is state as well as social pressure on them to marry in order to ease the marriage squeeze.67 There is some likelihood that the marriage squeeze may result in greater acceptance of singlehood and same-sex relationships. In India, there is some evidence that rigid marriage rules of caste, community, residence, and parental support, as well as dowry norms, are being relaxed in areas with highly skewed SRs.68

Sex Ratios, Crime, and Violence against Women

One of the predictions and worries associated with high SRBs is that higher numbers of men lead to social disorder in the form of rising crime and gender violence. It is assumed that “unattached” or unmarried men are prone to greater violence as marriage is considered to have a tempering effect.69 It is predicted that bride trafficking and levels of prostitution would increase in bride-shortage areas. A further worry is about increases in the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases. Higher levels of gender violence in the form of sexual assault and rapes would impinge on the safety of women and their ability to function free of fear.

This dominant framing of the effects of high SRs—and of masculinities—is reflected in Hudson and den Boer’s predictions that surplus men in India and China would have serious security implications, with a likelihood of China embarking on military adventurism and heightened communal conflict in India.70 Empirical studies of bachelors in China, however, reveal the opposite, with unmarried men being insecure and depressed.71 Although a study on China shows a rise in petty crime and a study in India shows that high SR regions are characterized by a greater incidence of homicide, there is insufficient evidence to establish a causal relationship.72 Bride trafficking has been reported in both countries and cross-cultural brides coming from other countries or other cultural regions within India and China can face problems of adjustment as well as increased domestic violence. Whether women face higher violence or greater patriarchal control in high SR areas is another aspect on which studies provide mixed evidence.73 In India, with the high SRB, men’s marriages are delayed, and young women do report an increase in sexual harassment.74

Policies to Address Skewed Sex Ratios

A sharp deterioration in the number of girls born in both countries has forced their governments to take cognizance of sex-selective abortions (as well as other forms of sex selection). While banning sex determination tests was the first step, authorities have also taken other measures aimed at raising the value of girl children. In advocating these steps, there is recognition of the complex social processes and cultural norms that have worked to increase daughter aversion.

China instituted a Care for Girls program in 2000 with the mandate to “improve the environment for girls’ survival and development.” The central objective of the program was to promote a fundamental change in people’s attitudes toward childbearing by weakening son preference. In 2007, the Care for Girls campaign was shaped into a fifteen-year program of actions and governance to lower the high SRB to normal by 2020. As part of this program, small loans were given to families with only daughters to help them generate income and support schooling for girls. More recently, it has been suggested that a more comprehensive policy is needed that would include other vulnerable groups, such as involuntary bachelors.75

India also ushered in a slew of girl child schemes and policies at both national and state levels. The first of such scheme, the Cradle Baby Scheme, was initiated in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, known for a few pockets of female infanticide. Under this scheme, the government, headed by a female chief minister, Jayalalitha, set up cradles in hospitals, primary health centers, and orphanages for people to deposit unwanted baby girls.76 Schemes launched after 2001 have been mostly in the form of conditional cash transfers to parents at various milestones in the life of the girl, such as completion of vaccinations and primary and secondary education, with the final amount being given at the age of adulthood (i.e., eighteen). Many of these schemes are hamstrung by attached conditions that people find difficult to fulfill.

Since 2014, the earlier media campaigns have been given a new nationwide profile under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi called “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” (Save the daughter, Educate the daughter) to encourage people to change their attitudes towards daughters. Das Gupta suggests that media campaigns highlighting gender equality and the worth of daughters are likely to contribute to the eventual normalization of the SRB.77 Despite such government sponsored efforts to rein in the adverse SR, they have had only a small effect. There is little evidence that financial incentives encourage people to raise girls and the laws banning sex selection have not been very effective.

Approaches and Issues for Discussion

The issue of gender imbalance in Asia has been approached from several disciplinary vantage points—demography, sociology and anthropology, economics, medicine, technology, and law. Of these, demography and social anthropology and sociology have been prominent in embodying quantitative and qualitative approaches; however, an exclusively quantitative or qualitative picture would provide an incomplete understanding of the female adverse trends in sex ratios. Greenhalgh and Li offer a trenchant critique of the limitations of a positivist demographic perspective, arguing that quantitative and macro-level data “tell the end of the story but shed little light on the complex set of processes leading up to it.”78 They argue that demographic perspectives offer little on the role of the state or on the historical understanding of shifting socio-cultural phenomenon that shape differential demographic outcomes. Feminist demographers and sociologists like them argue that demography often remains unaware of the politics of population and population policies and how these may be used to dominate and govern; there is little concern about the outcomes or collateral damage that such policies may cause by constructing “population” as a “problem.” To illustration the bias: the focus has been on men who would be unable to marry rather than on abandoned or aborted girls. The psychological and health consequences for mothers who abort or are made to abort female fetuses have also not been a focus of much research or public concern.

Various ethnographic studies and sociological analysis have deepened the understanding of how reproductive behavior is embedded in social relations which are further related to national discourses and state policies concerning modernization. The effect of the intersecting role of gender, class, race, ethnicity, rural or urban location, and other such variables on demographic patterns and outcomes has been brought home by studies in different parts of the world.

Demographers, however, point out that anthropologists would not have grasped the full import of the brewing SR crisis in India and China, were it not for demographic analysis of censuses and large surveys.79 A conversation between the two has been extremely fruitful in unravelling the meanings, contexts, causes, and consequences of son preference, daughter aversion, and SR imbalances. While demographers have identified new terrains of son preference in Vietnam and several of the Caucasus countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia), sociologists and anthropologists have identified processes such as the emergence of new reproductive technologies that allow sex selection, shifts in the economy and family, and household mobility strategies to explain the rise (and the post-2005 improvement) of SRBs.80

More recently, global post-modern studies on new reproductive technologies and sex selection are shedding light on how knowledge-making around fertility related choices and outcomes and the phenomenon of sex selection in the north and south is embroiled in colonial and capitalist gender and racial politics as well as in transnational market processes.81 The complex and evolving nature of the gender imbalance phenomenon also lends itself to studies in economics, law and medicine.

South Korea’s Case: The Way Forward?

In searching for solutions to the SR imbalance, recent writings have turned to the case of South Korea where SRBs returned to normal post-1995, demonstrating that state policies that clearly address socio-cultural factors underlying son-preference can have the desired effect on reducing the bias against daughters. In South Korea, amendments to family law gave women equal rights in matters pertaining to inheritance, marriage, and children; allowed couples to choose post-marital residence by mutual agreement and made children of both sexes equally responsible for care of parents. The actions of the state were enhanced by a transforming economy and higher rates of urbanization that benefitted women. With better educational attainments, women joined the workforce and were able to offer support to parents. Marriage became less important for women’s livelihood or security. Altogether, these changes reduced the gap in the perceived usefulness, value, and desire for daughters versus sons.82

The role of state institutions in challenging traditional hierarchies and social norms and enabling an equal platform for the sexes is therefore of immense importance as also seen in the post-revolution and pre-reform period in China—the latter being the only period during which SRBs had become normal.83

Development and Gender Inequalities

The broader question of the relationship between development and the gender inequalities that produce SR imbalances needs to be explored more deeply. Contradictory forces and effects are generated by the process of development that often ends up being one step forward and two steps backwards for gender equality. Thus, SRs in both countries rose as these countries became more prosperous from 1980s onward, propelled by the simultaneous decline of fertility and widespread availability of technologies of pre-natal sex determination. The rise in the SRs also coincided with several improvements in women’s demographic, social, and economic indicators. Yet, more girls than ever were either not allowed to be born or died untimely deaths.

According to development studies literature, fertility decline, higher education, and labor force participation are key to women’s empowerment and agency. Yet, gains in these areas have not helped improve the value of all daughters; in fact, some of these achievements may have had inadvertent negative consequences in rapidly developing societies.

In India, women’s workforce participation declined from 34 percent in 1990 to 24 percent in 2017. Apart from the important factor that a larger proportion of these women are staying longer in education, a substantial number of married women are withdrawn from work in newly prosperous households; this phenomenon has been identified as the “wealth effect” or the “status trap.”84 While this enhances the status of the woman’s marital family, it robs her of worth deriving from work and renews her perception as a burden. Higher dowries are demanded for women who are not expected to work after marriage, and this further lowers the desire for daughters.

Despite the absolute and much higher socio-demographic achievements of Chinese women in comparison with Indian women, gender inequality has made a comeback in Chinese society with de-collectivization and the advent of the household responsibility system. Economic reforms have had an uneven effect on women’s prospects and conditions with some categories of women being left out of the gains of development. Familial expectations from girls remain lower than from boys, and parents tend to withdraw girls early from school. The higher competitiveness in employment has brought down women’s workforce participation rates from 71 percent in 1990 to 61 percent in 2017, as well as increased the wage gap.85 Many traditional attitudes that place a lower value on women persist in Chinese society and gendered roles are being reiterated as women suffer disadvantage in the labor markets. The rise in the costs of bringing up children and lack of childcare support at one end and absent old-age security provision at the other, trap women in domestic and gendered roles.

Fertility, Mobility, and Daughter Discrimination

Greenhalgh has argued that families shape fertility to achieve security and improve their social status and economic and political position in society, hence reducing fertility can be a form of mobility.86 Recent research shows that apart from controlling the size of the family, influencing its sex composition may also work as a family strategy to achieve upward mobility. This is especially true of “emerging middle-class” families in India that have limited resources and are attempting to become middle class.87

However, as families become more educated, prosperous, and secure, parents may need to discriminate less against girls. As the economic basis of livelihood shifts away from land and the role of traditional observances (such as ancestor worship declines), parents are more likely to evaluate sons and daughters along newer parameters. While costs of raising children seem to be key to fertility decisions, a growing appreciation of the value of daughters seems to be underway among the more economically secure classes.88 The recent mildly improving trend of SRBs in pockets of both countries may thus be viewed in the context of dynamic political economies within which gendered roles and intergenerational contracts are being reworked by families and households.

Primary Sources

There are several primary sources for the study of India and China’s demography related to gender issues. The crucial primary data comes from country censuses, vital registration systems (births, deaths, and marriages), and sample surveys, such as demographic and health surveys. For a detailed guide to sources on Asia’s demography, see Goodkind’s essay in the Routledge Handbook of Asian Demography (2018).

Sources on India

India’s census is decennial, conducted by the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner and has been carried out regularly since 1951.89 In the earlier censuses, the he Indian census did not provide data on SRB—it began to do so only after 2001—but instead provided the CSR (0–1 and/or 0–6 years of age), and for this reason the Indian discussion on SR trends is in terms of rise or fall of CSRs although demographers have regularly been extrapolating SRBs from the available data.

The Indian census also calculates SRB as the number of girls born relative to 1,000 boys in contrast with the worldwide calculation as the number of boys relative to 100 girls. This difference affects the language of the scholarly discussion as the Indian literature refers to the fall or decline of SRs to refer to a worsening in the SRB or CSR while the international literature refers to fall or decline as improvement. Thus, researchers have to be careful when reading work on India. The Indian census office also conducts a sample survey through the Sample Registration System (SRS) which provides SRBs as three-year moving averages and is used to track SRBs. Another source for the SRB is hospital statistics; the sex of the child can be obtained from hospital records. Another source of SRB data in India is the Health Management Information System (HMIS).

Another important sources for examining gender and demography issues is the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), which is a large-scale multi-round survey. Four rounds of the survey have been conducted since 1992–1993, the latest being in 2015–2016. Yet another important source of data is the relatively new India Human Development Survey (IHDS); the survey has been conducted twice, once in 2004–2005 and then in 2011–2012 with the same households, making it an important tool for longitudinal study of changes in social and gender issues. Data on crimes and violence against women is provided by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). Other primary sources for qualitative material on demographic and gender issues are sociological and anthropological studies conducted in various parts of the country. Historical sources in India such as District Gazetteers from the British period are found in National Archives and in research libraries such as the Nehru Memorial Museum Library.

Sources on China

China’s censuses, conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics of China (NBSC), have been irregular, but are planned on a regular basis in the future, the last two having been conducted in 2000 and 2010. In 1990, William Lavely, James Lee, and Wang Feng provided a historical background to the emergence of the tradition of systematic collection of demographic data since 1979. They point to the 1982 census as being the turning point in Chinese demography.

The NBSC also brings out “Women and Men in China: Facts and Figures,” the latest one was in 2012, which is a helpful source for examining gender gaps in Chinese society.90 Surveys have also been carried out by the Federation of Chinese Women and the National Office of Statistics in 1990, 2000, and 2010, providing data on marriage, education, health, employment, and political participation, opening a window into gender inequalities and changing gender ideals. Apart from summaries of reports available in English on its website, all materials of the Federation are in the Chinese language.

International Data Sources

A wealth of data on both countries is also available in the World Development Indicators (The World Bank), the Population Division of the United Nations, and the Population Division of the US Census Bureau. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has closely tracked gender-biased sex selection in various countries and provides regular data and research reports. UNICEF supplies data and reports on girl children. SR maps by UN bodies provide a sense of the geography of daughter discrimination and can be accessed on their respective websites. Secondary data is found in a plethora of research articles in the fields of demography, sociology, anthropology, economics, geography and medicine.

Sources of Qualitative Data

While most primary data are therefore derived from censuses and surveys of various sizes, qualitative data is to be found (especially for India) in the work of anthropologists and sociologists and are generally in the form of case studies at the village level. There have been many prominent historical and contemporary ethnographic works around gender in India, fewer in China. Primary data for China is found in books such as Kay Johnson’s recent book on adopted and abandoned children in China.91 Recently, many journalists have also produced remarkably well-researched books on India and China. Three examples are: Unnatural Selection by Mara Hvistendahl, One Child: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment by Mei Fong, and Disappearing Daughters: The Tragedy of Female Foeticide by Gita Aravamudan.92 Newspapers and magazines also provide primary reportage from various parts of the country on gender and demography related issues.

Secondary Sources

There is a large variety of writings that use primary and secondary data to glean out findings on different aspects of the SR imbalance in India and China. Of note here are articles in medical journals such as The Lancet, British Medical Journal, and Reproductive Health Matters.

Further Reading/Visual Sources

  • Al Jazeera. “The Politics of Population Control.” December 24, 2018.
  • Coale, Ansley, and Judith Banister. “Five Decades of Missing Females in China.” Demography 31, no. 3 (1994): 459–479.
  • Croll, Elisabeth. Endangered Daughters: Discrimination and Development in Asia. London: Routledge, 2001.
  • Das Gupta, Monica. “Selective Discrimination Against Female Children in Rural Punjab, India.” Population and Development Review 13, no. 1 (1987): 77–100.
  • Denyer, Simon and Annie Gowen. “Too Many Men” The Washington Post, April 18 (2018).
  • Dyson, Tim, and Mick Moore. “On Kinship Structure, Female Autonomy, and Demographic Behavior in India.” Population and Development Review 9, no. 1 (1983): 35–60.
  • Gammeltoft, Tine M., and Ayo Wahlberg. “Selective Reproductive Technologies.” Annual Review of Anthropology 43 (2014): 201–216.
  • Goodkind, Daniel. Asia’s Major Demographic Data Sources: Routledge Handbook of Asian Demography. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2017.
  • Greenhalgh, Susan, and Edwin A. Winckler. China’s Population: From Leninist to Neoliberal Biopolitics. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005.
  • Guilmoto, Christophe Z.Sex Imbalances at Birth: Current Trends, Consequences and Policy Applications.” Bangkok, Thailand: UNFPA, 2012.
  • Guilmoto, Christophe Z. “The Sex Ratio Transition in Asia.” Population and Development Review 35.3 (2009): 519–549.
  • Guttentag, Marcia, and Paul F. Secord. Too Many Women? The Sex Ratio Question. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE Publications, 1983.
  • Johnson, Kay Ann. China’s Hidden Children: Abandonment, Adoption, and the Human Costs of the One Child Policy. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2016.
  • Kaur, Ravinder. (Ed.). Too Many Men, Too Few Women: Social Consequences of Gender Imbalance in India and China. New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2016.
  • Kishor, Sunita. “May God Give Sons to All: Gender and Child Mortality in India.” American Sociological Review 58.2 (1993): 247–265.
  • Lavely, William, James Lee, and Wang Feng. “Chinese Demography: The State of the Field.” The Journal of Asian Studies 49.4 (1990): 807–834.
  • Miller, Barbara. The Endangered Sex: Neglect of Female Children in Rural North India. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981.
  • Murthi, Mamta, Anne-Catherine Guio, and Jean Drèze. “Mortality, Fertility, and Gender Bias in India: A District-Level Analysis.” Population and Development Review 21, no. 4 (1995): 745–782.
  • Philips, Tom. “China Ends one-child policy after 35 years.” The Guardian. October 29, 2015.
  • Riley, Nancy, and Jan Brunson, eds. International Handbook on Gender and Demographic Processes. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2018.
  • Van Balen, Frank, and Marcia Inhorn. “Son Preference, Sex Selection, and the ‘New’, New Reproductive Technologies.” International Journal of Health Studies 33, no. 2 (2003): 235–252.
  • Zhao, Zhongwei, and Adrian C. Hayes. Routledge Handbook of Asian Demography. 2017.


  • 1. John Bongaarts and Christophe Z. Guilmoto, “How Many More Missing Women? Excess Female Mortality and Prenatal Sex Selection, 1970–2050,” Population and Development Review 41, no. 2 (2015): 241–269.

  • 2. Amartya Sen, “More Than 100 Million Women Are Missing.” The New York Review of Books, December 20, 1990.

  • 3. See Sten Johannson and Ola Nygren, “The Missing Girls of China: A New Demographic Account,” Population and Development Review 17, no. 1 (1991): 5–51. The natural SRB is 104–106 boys per 100 girls. This gap gets equalized during infancy as there is naturally occurring higher mortality among boys between the ages of zero and one. SRBs higher than 106 imply that biology is being interfered with to achieve more male births, indicating a strong preference for sons. See Bongaarts and Guilmoto, “How Many More Missing Women?” for a more nuanced and updated discussion.

  • 4. The Indian census does not provide SRBs. Instead it provides the CSR from ages zero to six.

  • 5. Isabelle Attane, “Being a Woman in China Today: A Demography of Gender.” China Perspectives, April, 2012.

  • 6. World Bank, World Development Indicators, 2017.

  • 7. New technologies of sex determination and sex selection emerged in the 1980s. Amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling are invasive technologies but can reveal the sex of the fetus early in the pregnancy. Ultrasonography is not invasive but is less reliable; however, it has become the most common method of sex determination. Newer technologies such as sperm sorting and pre-implantation genetic diagnoses (PGD) enable sex selection before conception. On the interaction of pre- and post-natal sex determination, see Daniel Goodkind, “On Substituting sex Preference Strategies in East Asia: Does Prenatal Sex Selection Reduce Postnatal Discrimination?” Population and Development Review 22, no. 1 (1996): 111–125. Bongaarts and Guilmoto, “How Many More Missing Women?”

  • 8. Attane, “Being a Woman in China Today.”

  • 9. L. S. Vishwanath, “Female Infanticide: The Colonial Experience,” Economic and Political Weekly 39, no. 22 (2004): 2313–2318.

  • 10. Charis Loh and Elizabeth Remick, “China’s Skewed Sex Ratio and the One-Child Policy.’ The China Quarterly 222 (June 2015): 295–319.

  • 11. Bernice J. Lee, “Female Infanticide in China,” Historical Reflections 8, no. 3 (1981): 163–177.

  • 12. Satish Agnihotri, Sex Ratio Patterns in India: A Fresh Exploration (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2000).

  • 13. UNICEF

  • 14. Although referred to as “states” in India, the article uses “provinces” to reduce confusion. A small pocket of female infanticide and adverse SRBs can also be found in Tamil Nadu in the south, see Sheela Rani Chunkath and Venkatesh. B. Athreya, “Female Infanticide in Tamil Nadu: Some Evidence,” Economic and Political Weekly 32, no. 17 (1997): WS21–WS25+WS27–WS28.

  • 15. Vani Booruah and Sriya Iyer, “Religion, Literacy, and the Female-to-Male Ratio,” Economic and Political Weekly 40, no. 5 (January 29, 2005): 419–427.

  • 16. See Agnihotri, Sex Ratio Patterns; and Mary John et al., Planning Families, Planning Gender: The Adverse Child Sex Ratio in Selected Districts of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab (New Delhi: ActionAid, 2008).

  • 17. Christophe Z. Guilmoto and Qiang Ren, “Socioeconomic Differentials in Birth Masculinity in China,” Development and Change 42, no. 5 (2011): 1269–1296; and Prbahat Jha et al., “Trends in Selective Abortion of Girls in India: Analysis of Nationally Representative Birth Histories from 1990 to 2005 and Census Data from 1991 to 2011.” The Lancet 377, no. 9781 (June 2011): 1921–1928.

  • 18. World Bank, World Development Indicators; Also, China’s 2015 One Percent Population Census displayed an SRB of 113.55—a marked decrease from that in the 2010 census; however, scholars are doubtful that this decline is possible for a large population. See Quanbao Jiang et al., “Changes in the Sex Ratio at Birth in China: A Decomposition by Birth Order,” Journal of Biosocial Science 49 (2016): 826–841.

  • 19. Guo Zhen, Monica Das Gupta, and Li Shuzhuo, “Missing Girls” in China and India: Trends and Policy Challenges,”. Asian Population Studies 12 no. 2 (2016): 135–155.

  • 20. Christophe Z. Guilmoto, Missing Girls: A Globalizing Issue International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, Second Edition (2015): 608–613.

  • 21. Kay Ann Johnson, China’s Hidden Children: Abandonment, Adoption, and the Human Costs of the One Child Policy (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2016).

  • 22. Jha et al., “Trends in Selective Abortion of Girls”; and Purushottam M. Kulkarni, Estimation of Missing Girls at Birth and Juvenile Ages in India (New Delhi: UNFPA, 2007).

  • 23. Attane, “Being a Woman in China Today.”

  • 24. Monica Das Gupta and P. N. Mari Bhat, “Fertility Decline and Increased Manifestation of Sex Bias in India,” Population Studies 51, no. 3 (1997), 307–315.

  • 25. Ravinder Kaur et al., Sex Ratio at Birth: The Role of Gender, Class and Education (New Delhi: UNFPA, 2007).

  • 26. Frank Van Balen and Marcia Inhorn, “Son Preference, Sex Selection, and the ‘New’, New Reproductive Technologies,” International Journal of Health Studies 33, no. 2 (2003): 235–252.

  • 27. Fred Arnold and Eddie C. Y. Kuo, “The Value of Daughters and Sons: A Comparative Study of the Gender Preferences of Parents,” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 15, no. 2 (1984): 299–318.

  • 28. Monica Das Gupta, “Family Systems, Political Systems and Asia’s Missing Girls.” Asian Population Studies 6, no. 2 (2010): 123–152.

  • 29. Pranab Bardhan, “Little Girls and Death in India,” Economic and Political Weekly 17, no. 36 (1982): 1448–1450; and Barbara Miller, The Endangered Sex: Neglect of Female Children in Rural North India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997).

  • 30. Siwan Anderson, “The Economics of Dowry and Bride Price,” Journal of Economic Perspective 21, no. 4 (2007): 151–174. However, recognition of women’s productive role was less in southern China.

  • 31. Ursula Sharma, Women, Work and Property in North-West India (London: Tavistock Publications, 1980).

  • 32. Higher caste women were secluded and could not contribute to labor outside the household. In India, as families prosper, they tend to withdraw their women from labor. Upwardly mobile castes tend to emulate upper castes in following seclusion practices.

  • 33. Rajni Palriwala, “Reaffirming the Anti-Dowry Struggle,” Economic and Political Weekly 24, no. 17 (April 29, 1989): 942–944.

  • 34. Miller, The Endangered Sex.

  • 35. Deniz Kandiyoti, “Bargaining with Patriarchy,” Gender and Society 2, no. 3 (1988): 274–290. The same was true in China. See Lixing Li and Xiaoyu Wu, “Gender of Children, Bargaining Power, and Intrahousehold Resource Allocation in China,” The Journal of Human Resources 46, no. 2 (2011): 295–316.

  • 36. Khap panchayats (caste-based community organizations) have been playing in regulating marriage in Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh. See Ravinder Kaur, “Khap Panchayats, Sex Ratio and Female Agency,” Economic and Political Weekly 45, no. 2 (2010): 14–16.

  • 37. UNICEF, “End Child Marriage.”

  • 38. Shuzhuo Li, Chuzhu Zhu, and Marcus W. Feldman, “Gender Differences in Child Survival in Contemporary Rural China: A County Study,” Journal of Biosocial Science 36, no. 1 (2004): 83–109.

  • 39. Yingchun Ji, “Between Tradition and Modernity: ‘Leftover’ Women in Shanghai,” Journal of Family and Marriage 77, no. 5 (2015): 1057–1073; and Leta Hong Fincher, Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in Chin (London: Zed Books, 2014).

  • 40. See Paul Ehrlich, The Population Bomb (New York: Ballantine Books, 1971) but also a critique by Mahmood Mamdani, The Myth of Population Control: Family, Caste and Class in an Indian Village (NY: Monthly Review Press, 1972).

  • 41. Matthew Connelly, Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2008).

  • 42. Ansley J. Coale and Judith Banister, “Five Decades of Missing Females in China,” Demography 31, no. 3 (1994): 459–479; and Daniel Goodkind, “The Astonishing Population Averted by China’s Birth Restrictions: Estimates, Nightmares, and Reprogrammed Ambitions.” Demography 54 (2017): 1375–1400.

  • 43. Susan Greenhalgh and Jiali Li, “Engendering Reproductive Policy and Practice in Peasant China: For a Feminist Demography of Reproduction,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 20, no. 3 (1995): 601–641; and Mei Fong, One Child: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment (London: Oneworld Publications, 2016).

  • 44. Fong, One Child, p. 67.

  • 45. Realizing the effects of the OCP on the gender balance, the Chinese government banned sex identification in 1995.

  • 46. Gu Baochang, 2000 “Reorienting China’s Family Planning Program: An Experi- ment on Quality of Care since 1995.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America, March 23–25, Los Angeles, cited in Susan Greenhalgh, “Fresh Winds in Beijing: Chinese Feminists Speak Out on the One-Child Policy and Women’s Lives,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 26, no. 3 (2001): 847–886.

  • 47. Tulsi Patel, Sex Selective Abortion in India: Gender, Society and New Reproductive Technologies (New Delhi: SAGE, 2007).

  • 48. During the twenty-two-month period of the Emergency, 11 million people, many of them unmarried, many overage, and many with less than two children, were sterilized forcibly. Demographer Ashish Bose quoted in Patel, Sex Selective Abortion in India.

  • 49. The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act 1994 came into effect in 1996. The law now covers pre-conception technologies of sex selection such as sperm sorting and pre-implantation technologies (PGD) that have come into practice.

  • 50. Minna Saavala, Middle-Class Moralities: Everyday Struggle over Belonging and Prestige in India (New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2010).

  • 51. John et al., Planning Families, Planning Gender.

  • 52. Tom Philips, “China Ends One-Child Policy After 35 Years,” The Guardian, October 29, 2015.

  • 53. The dependency ratio is a measure showing the number of dependents, aged zero to fourteen and over the age of sixty-five, to the total population, aged fifteen to sixty-four.

  • 54. The phrase “marriage squeeze” refers to the demographic imbalance in which the number of potential brides does not approximately equal the number of potential grooms.

  • 55. Christophe Z. Guilmoto, “Skewed Sex Ratios at Birth and Future Marriage Squeeze in China and India, 2005–2100,” Demography 49 (2012): 77–100.

  • 56. See Introduction in Ravinder Kaur, ed., Too Many Men, Too Many Women: Social Consequences of Gender Imbalance in India and China (New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2016).

  • 57. Monica Das Gupta, Avraham Ebenstein, and Ethan Jennings Sharygin, “China’s Marriage Market and Upcoming Challenges for Elderly Men,” in Too Many Men, ed. Kaur, 89–117

  • 58. Greenhalgh and Li, “Engendering Reproductive Policy.”

  • 59. Bridal Paths: Demand for Wives in China Endangers Women who Live on its Borders,” The Economist, November 4, 2017.

  • 60. Xiaoyi Jin et al., “‘Bare Branches’ and the Marriage Market in Rural China: Preliminary Evidence from a Village-Level Survey,” in Too Many men, Too Many Women: Social Consequences of Gender Imbalance in India and China, ed. Ravinder Kaur (New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2016), 170–196.

  • 61. Ravinder Kaur, “Across-Region Marriages Poverty, Female Migration and the Sex Ratio,” Economic and Political Weekly 39, no. 25, (2004): 2595–2603, and “Mapping the Consequences of Sex Selection and Gender Imbalance in India and China,” in Too Many Men, ed. Kaur, 1–32.

  • 62. Nicole Constable, Cross Border Marriages: Gender and Mobility in Transnational Asia (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004); Delia Davin, “Marriage Migration in China and East Asia,” Journal of Contemporary China 16, no. 50 (2007): 83–95; and Thanh-Dam Truong and des Gasper, “Transnational local Livelihoods and Connections: Embedding a Gender Perspective into Migration Studies.” Gender Technology and Development 12, no. 3 (2008): 285–302.

  • 63. Shang-Jin Wei and Xiaobo Zhang, “The Competitive Saving Motive: Evidence from Rising Sex Ratios and Savings Rates in China,” Journal of Political Economy 119, no. 3 (2011): 511–564.

  • 64. Alice Chiu, Derek Heady, and Xiaobo Zhang, “Are India’s Gender Imbalances Inducing Higher Household Savings?,” cited in Kaur, ed., Introduction, in Too Many Men; and Mattias Larsen and Ravinder Kaur, “Signs of Change? Sex Ratio Imbalance and Shifting Social Practices in Northern India,” Economic and Political Weekly 48, no. 35 (2013): 45–52.

  • 65. Larsen and Kaur, “Signs of Change?”

  • 66. Patricia Jeffery, “Supply-and-Demand Demographics: Dowry, Daughter Aversion and Marriage Markets in Contemporary North India,” Contemporary South Asia 22, no. 2 (2014): 171–188.

  • 67. Leta-Hong Fincher, Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China (London: Zed Books, 2014).

  • 68. Larsen and Kaur, “Signs of Change?”

  • 69. Emile Durkheim, Suicide a Study in Sociology (New York: The Free Press, 1897 [1951]).

  • 70. Valerie Hudson and Andrea den Boer, Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia’s Surplus Male Population (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004).

  • 71. Xudong Zhou et al., “The Very High Sex Ratio in Rural China: Impact on the Psychosocial Well-being of Unmarried Men.” Social Science and Medicine 73, no. 9 (2011), 1422–1427.

  • 72. Lena Edlund et al., “Sex Ratios and Crime: Evidence from China’s One-Child Policy,” IZA Discussion Paper No 3214, December 2007; and Jean Dreze and Reetika Khera, “Crime, Gender, and Society in India: Insights from Homicide Data,” Population and Development Review 26, no. 2 (2000), 335–352.

  • 73. See Sunita Bose, Katherine Trent, and Scott J. South “The Effect of Male Surplus on Intimate Partner Violence in India”, in Too Many men, ed. Kaur, 61–88.

  • 74. Prem Chowdhry, “Crisis of Masculinity in Haryana: The Unmarried, The Unemployed and The Aged,” Economic and Political Weekly 40, no. 49 (2005): 5189–5198.

  • 75. Li Shuzhuo, Shang Zijuan, and Marcus W. Feldman, “Social Management of Gender Imbalance in China: A Holistic Governance Framework,” in Too Many men, ed. Kaur, 249–274.

  • 76. Shahid Perwez, “Understanding Policy and Programming on Sex-Selection in Tamil Nadu: Ethnographic and Sociological Reflections,” in Too Many men, ed. Kaur, 302–326.

  • 77. Monica Das Gupta, Woojin Chung, and Li Shuzhuo, “Evidence for an Incipient Decline in Numbers of Missing Girls in China and India,” Population and Development Review 35, no. 2 (2009): 401–416.

  • 78. Greenhalgh and Li, “Engendering Reproductive Policy.”

  • 79. Christophe Z. Guilmoto, “Sex Ratio Imbalances in Asia: An Ongoing Conversation Between Anthropologists and Demographers,” in Scarce Women and Surplus Men in China and India, Demographic Transformation and Socio-Economic Development, eds. Sharada Srinivisan and Shuzhuo. Li (New York: Springer, 2018)., 145–161

  • 80. See Christophe Z. Guilmoto, Xuyên Hoàng, and Toan Ngo Van, “Recent Increase in Sex Ratio at Birth in Viet Nam,” PLoS ONE 4, no. 2, (2009): e4624; Christophe Z. Guilmoto and Géraldine Duthé, “Masculinization of Births in Eastern Europe,” Population & Societies 506, no. 11 (2013): 1–4; Das Gupta et al., “Evidence for an Incipient Decline”; Kaur et al., Sex Ratio at Birth; and Sunil Khanna, “Traditions and Reproductive Technology in an Urbanizing North Indian Village,” Social Science Medicine 44, no. 2 (1997): 171–180.

  • 81. Rajani Bhatia, Gender Before Birth: Sex Selection in a Transnational Context (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2018); and Kumkum Sangari, Solid, Liquid: A (trans)national Reproductive Formation (New Delhi: Tullika Books, 2015).

  • 82. Das Gupta et al., “Evidence for an Incipient Decline”; and Sital Kalantry Women’s Human Rights and Migration: Sex Selective Abortion Laws in the United States and India (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017).

  • 83. Loh and Remick, “China’s Skewed Sex Ratio.”

  • 84. Lupin Rahman and Vijayendra Rao, “The Determinants of Gender Equity in India: Examining Dyson and Moore’s Thesis with New Data,” Population and Development Review 30, no. 2 (2004): 239–268. Mysore N. Srinivas, “The Changing Position of Indian Women,” Man, 12, no. 2 (1977): 221–238.

  • 85. Attane, “Being a Woman in China Today.”

  • 86. Susan Greenhalgh, “Fertility As Mobility: Sinic Transitions,” Population and Development Review 14, no. 4 (1988): 629–674.

  • 87. Kaur et al., Sex Ratio at Birth.

  • 88. See Greenhalgh, “Fresh Winds in Beijing”; Alice Clark, Valued Daughters: First Generation Career Women (New Delhi: SAGE, 2016); and Sunil K. Khanna, S. Sudha, and S. Irudaya Rajan, “Family-Building Strategies in Urban India: Converging Demographic Trends in Two Culturally Distinct Communities,” Contemporary South Asia, 17, no. 2 (2009): 141–158.

  • 89. The Indian census has been carried out since the late 19th century, with the first one being carried out over the period 1867–1872. Since 1881, the census has been decennial.

  • 90. National Bureau of Statistics of China, Women and Men in China.

  • 91. Johnson, China’s Hidden Children.

  • 92. Mara Hvistendahl, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men (New York: Public Affairs, 2010); Fong, One Child; and Gita Aravamudan, Disappearing Daughters: The Tragedy of Female Foeticide (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2007).