Now, however, comes evidence that India may in fact be succeeding. In a pair of articles in the Indian Express, Surjit Bhalla, an economist, and Ravinder Kaur, a sociologist, use a different set of figures to get a different result. On the basis of the national sample surveys (NSS), they calculate that India’s sex ratio at birth swung from 924 females per 1,000 males in 2004-05 to 977 in 2011, a stunning turnaround in favour of girls.
I hear about the problem of sex bias through selection (either abortion or greater neglect of female babies) a lot in the press. There are a few issues which the mainstream seems rather ignorant of, both theoretical and empirical. First, there is the Trivers–Willard hypothesis. It offers a strong theoretical rational for why high status lineages are going to exhibit a preference for males over females. It also is a reason to expect a shift toward male preference with economic development and elite emulation! Second, South Korea is not the only East Asian nation to switch from male to female preference of late. Japan has also done so, though nearly 15 years earlier. The fact that South Korea has followed the same social and economic track as Japan is highly suggestive that this is not a coincidence.
The issue of sex-selection is a big one. But before we talk about it I wish we could integrate the best theoretical models and empirical evidence. As it is, I hear constant “surprise” that economic development many lead to sex-selection, because of the prejudices that many have that economic wealth leads to greater sexual egalitarianism. In the long run this may be true, but as they say, in the long run we’re all dead.