In this week’s Economist a shocking story Gendercide: The War on Baby Girls. In a nutshell, 100 million baby girls aborted, killed or neglected and rising.
Most people know China and northern India have unnaturally large numbers of boys. But few appreciate how bad the problem is, or that it is rising. In China the imbalance between the sexes was 108 boys to 100 girls for the generation born in the late 1980s; for the generation of the early 2000s, it was 124 to 100. In some Chinese provinces the ratio is an unprecedented 130 to 100. The destruction is worst in China but has spread far beyond. Other East Asian countries, including Taiwan and Singapore, former communist states in the western Balkans and the Caucasus, and even sections of America’s population (Chinese- and Japanese-Americans, for example): all these have distorted sex ratios. Gendercide exists on almost every continent. It affects rich and poor; educated and illiterate; Hindu, Muslim, Confucian and Christian alike.
Wealth does not stop it. Taiwan and Singapore have open, rich economies. Within China and India the areas with the worst sex ratios are the richest, best-educated ones. And China’s one-child policy can only be part of the problem, given that so many other countries are affected.
In fact the destruction of baby girls is a product of three forces: the ancient preference for sons; a modern desire for smaller families; and ultrasound scanning and other technologies that identify the sex of a fetus. In societies where four or six children were common, a boy would almost certainly come along eventually; son preference did not need to exist at the expense of daughters. But now couples want two children—or, as in China, are allowed only one—they will sacrifice unborn daughters to their pursuit of a son. That is why sex ratios are most distorted in the modern, open parts of China and India. It is also why ratios are more skewed after the first child: parents may accept a daughter first time round but will do anything to ensure their next—and probably last—child is a boy. The boy-girl ratio is above 200 for a third child in some places.
This is awful but what has it to do with the topic of KOW’s interest, war? The Economist article spells it out in a sentence ‘In any country rootless young males spell trouble…’ but really I think this is a true statement that is worth examining in much more detail. In general it seems to me that the strategic studies community pays insufficient attention to sex. More people should read Malcolm Potts’ book Sex and War (you can get a flavour of his thesis in this fascinating Ask a Scientist lecture). I had the pleasure of chairing a presentation by him here at King’s a year ago; a lot of the things he said have really stuck with me. Incidentally, as far as I know this is the first academic book that has a companion T-Shirt (available from their site):
I want one!
All this makes me wonder whether unless China becomes the first gay superpower since Sparta (Footnote: I should credit Prof Chris Coker at LSE for this particular formulation mentioned to me in a bar in The Hague a year ago or so) its continued ‘peaceful rise’ becomes questionable. Are massive demographic sex imbalances such as this completely new? I think so (I welcome enlightenment/correction in comments). It’s quite an experiment we’ve embarked upon. Wonder how it will play out over coming decades?
So, you budding strategists scanning the horizon for the threat beyond Iraq and Afghanistan, think about sex more!