In the picture above you can see me with my cousins. There are two points that one can learn from this photograph: one which is very characteristic to modern China, and another – not.
The first is not obvious unless you know that my grandparents from mother’s side had five children. Each of them gave birth to just one kid: an illustration of one child policy in action.
The second point becomes visible when you notice that all of the cousins are… girls! And this peculiarity is the one which is not characteristic of Chinese families who have traditional preference for sons.
Although one child policy succeeded to slow down the growth of population in China, it has also produced some undesirable demographical changes. One of them is the unnatural imbalance between males and females of marriageable age. It is unnatural for a very simple reason: although in human population there is a slightly bigger number of male infants born (the normal proportion being 1.03 – 1.07) – this can be seen as evolutionary mechanism compensating for the higher mortality of males in ALL age groups – so that by the age of reproduction there would be roughly the same number of men and women.
In China, however, the proportion of males at birth is about 1.2/1. And it is even higher in the group of elder children (1-4 years old). Recent survey (2005) showed that in the group of Chinese under 20 years old there are 32 millions more males than females!
It’s not the secret that many Chinese feel very unhappy if their only child is a girl. Thus, the question is – what possibilities are available to parents who want to control the gender of their baby? The survey mentioned above names them:
- determining the gender of fetus during pregnancy and aborting in case it is female
- killing the newborn girls
- transferring baby girls for adoption
- giving half-hearted treatment for sick daughters in cases of illness
Due to availability of ultrasound, since the mid-1980s the main contributor to abnormal gender ratio became the sex-selective abortion (instead of post-birth neglect and abandonment of girls). And though the pre-birth sex determination has been outlawed in China, it is hard to explain the sex ratio distortion of such scale without assuming that “son-desperate” couples have access to illegal medical services.
Of course, majority of families never use any of the options mentioned above. But too often Chinese girls feel that their parents would be happier if they were boys. This cultural phenomenon is not restricted to mainland China. Let me quote one story about American Chinese from an interesting blog “At the back of the hill”:
Bright, vivacious, super intelligent. Her mom frequently verbally abused her in public, and the entire family got on her case for being admitted to Berkeley – stupid girl, so much money! So she never went. Did City College for three years, committed suicide in the fourth.
Her brother went to Stanford, and had his own apartment in Palo Alto. His education was funded entirely by his grandfather, because the boy would make the family proud.
Last I heard, they were very proud of him. He’s a PHD.
It is forbidden to ever mention that bad luck girl. Who?
I guess that at this point you won’t be surprised to learn the fact that China is the ONLY country in the world where more women commit suicide than men. Actually, 56 percent of the world’s female suicides occur in China!
So, what impact can the gender imbalance have on Chinese society? Authors of the paper “Abnormal sex ratios in human populations: causes and consequences” name few possible scenarios. First of all, it’s worth to note that the shortage of women in the marriage market allows them to “marry up”. As a result, the men who stay single usually belong to a lower socioeconomic class.
The situation when a high proportion of low-status males can’t create families and don’t have outlet for their sexual needs leads to increased levels of antisocial behavior and violence. Some researchers even predict that:
These men are likely to be attracted to military or military-type organizations, with the potential to be a trigger for large-scale domestic and international violence. With 40% of the world’s population living in China and India <…> the sex imbalance could impact regional and global security, especially because the surrounding countries of Pakistan, Taiwan, Nepal, and Bangladesh also have high sex ratios.
Other possible consequences include expansion of sex industry, women trafficking and rise in homosexual behavior (or at least increased tolerance toward homosexuality).
If this prognosis comes true, then such occurrences of violence as 2010 school attacks won’t be the news deserving a separate entry in Wikipedia and even unblocking of porn sites won’t help.
2010 is the year of national population census in China. There is a hope that its results regarding the males/females ratio won’t be as grave as calculations predict. The reason for such hope is embedded in the fact that many parents choose not to register their children fearing the fines and other measures undertaken against the violators of one child policy.
In 1990, the national census recorded 23 million births. But by the 2000 census, there were 26 million ten-year-old children, an increase of three million <…> normally, you would expect there to be fewer ten-year-olds than newborns, because of infant mortality.
It seems, however, that some local authorities [of Beijing] decided to take a serious stance against the parents and strip the unregistered children of citizenship.
There is one example regarding the one child policy that I want to bring in conclusion. Attempt to manipulate the nature is not the first in the history of modern China. Fifty years ago amidst the Great Leap Forward tree sparrows were accused of stealing the harvest from Chinese peasants. The war on birds was declared.
Initially, the campaign did improve the harvest.
[But] by April 1960 the National Academy of Science found that sparrows ate insects more than seeds. Mao declared “forget it”, and ordered the end of the campaign against sparrows. By this time, however, it was too late. With no sparrows to eat them, locust populations ballooned, swarming the country and compounding the problems already caused by the Great Leap Forward and adverse weather conditions, leading to the Great Chinese Famine in which around 30 million people died of starvation.
I understand that my analogy is far-stretched but in both examples there was an idea of improving the people’s life (minimizing the losses of harvest / alleviating the poverty) by implementing the nation-wide policy (four pests campaign / one child policy) which contradicted the nature’s “plans” (existence of species / human fertility rate) and created negative side-effects (onset of locusts / gender imbalance) leading to disastrous consequences (famine / ???).
Worried Crystal Tao