Deficit of Female Births in China, Europe, USA and India: 1950-1955 to 2095-2100 (in 1000)

Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2011): World Population Prospects, the 2010 Revision. New York. See:
Notes: Due to limitation of space country names were abbreviated. China stands for People's Republic of China, USA stands for United States of America, Europe (48) see Glossary

This chart illustrates the strong "male preference" in in China and India. It depicts the deficit of female births as compared to male births (number of female births minus number of male births during five-year periods). In the five-year period of 2000-2005 China had roughly 8.2 million female births less than male births. This deficit is much larger than can be explained by natural factors. It should be noted that the figure above displays the absolute deficit in the number of female births, not the sex ratio at birth.

The large excess of male over female birth in China can be explained by two factors: Sex-selective abortion and underreporting of female births. Most demographers believe that sex-selective abortions primarily account for the large deficit of female births in China, but under-reporting of female births certainly occurs. If one follows the birth cohorts for a few years, girls suddenly "appear" in the demographic statistics at higher age groups. Among school children, the number of females and males is much more balanced in China than among the newborn. This can only be explained by underreporting of female births. However, it is highly likely that selective abortion plays a major role in the large deficit of female births. With its strict "One-child only" family planning policy parents in China often have used abortion as a family planning measure if the first expected child was a girl - particularly since the early 1980s. This "darker side" of China's successful family planning policy is often ignored by family planning advocates.

The deficit of female births in China will haunt the society in coming decades, when hundred-thousands of young men will have little chance of marriage. China is expecting, and already experiencing, a massive "marriage squeeze", where millions of young men have no chance of finding a bride to start a family. Demographers and social scientists expect that the age difference between brides and grooms will grow. It is also likely that Chinese men will try to find non-Chinese brides in other countries.

According to the United Nations World Population Prospects, sex ratios at birth will become more balanced in the future, as China relaxes its strict "one child" policy. There are already regulations in place that allow parents who have both been single children to have two children themselves. Most demographers expect that China will have to further relax its "one child" policy, as the country will start to grapple with the problems of population ageing in the near future. These trends are likely to reduce the pressure towards male preference, so that the number of male and female births will likely to become more balanced in the future.


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This section was updated on 26 June 2011

Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 by Gerhard K. Heilig. All rights reserved. - 30 Sept. 2012