View profile

Goji Berries---Missing Women

Revue
 
Nearly thirty years ago, Amartya Sen estimated that there were more than 100M missing women. When Sen
 
September 12 · Issue #31 · View online
Goji Berries
Nearly thirty years ago, Amartya Sen estimated that there were more than 100M missing women. When Sen revisited the topic in 2003, the reading was equally grim. Twenty years later, the crime continues. As then, today, most of the missing women are in China and India (sub-Saharan Africa is third in line), though Pakistan has the highest per living woman (rather than per capita) rate of missing women.

Missing Women at Birth
Initial research into the reasons suggested that the main reason behind missing women was prenatal preferences (see here plus the table below). South Asian and Chinese parents prefer male children because sons are supposed to provide for old age. (Mamdani, husband of Mira Nair, was on to this point in 1972.) The insight led to laws like the 1994 PCPNDT Act aimed at preventing parents from learning about the sex of their child before they are born. By mid-2000s, the point that distorted sex ratio at birth is the primary driver was widely accepted (see here).
The power of the sons-as-old-age-insurance explanation, however, is limited. As you can see in the figure below, there is a clear divide between the North-West and the South-East. (N.B. State level inference is fraught. For instance, UP has over 200M people.)
Missing Adult Women
In 2010, Anderson and Ray shed new light on the issue. They found that “the vast majority of missing women in India … are of adult age.” (see also here.)
A large percentage of the missing women in China are located before birth and in infancy. We estimate that around 37–45% of the missing women in China are due to prenatal factors alone. But the numbers for India are more evenly distributed across the different age groups. Prenatal factors account for around 11%, and if we add up all the female deficit up to age 15, we do not get to a third of the total.
But what explains adult missing women?
“One rather sinister observation is that the number of excess female deaths from “Injuries” is high in India. There are excess female deaths under this heading in all groups. Excess female deaths for women from “Injuries” exceed 225,000, a number that dwarfs maternal mortality. The category 15–29 stands out in this regard, where the number of excess female deaths from “Injuries” outpaces excess deaths from maternal mortality at the same age. Further decomposition of “Injuries” into “unintentional” (accidents, etc.) and “intentional” (resulting essentially from acts of violence) tells us that around 30,000 extra women die per year, of “intentional injuries”, or reported violence, in the 15–29 age category alone.”
To shed more light on where the adult women are missing, Suriyan and I exploited the electoral rolls in India, which provide a virtual census of adult Indians, to estimate sex ratio by last name. The data suggests a sharp skew, with a few castes with sharply distorted sex ratios . The data aren’t final but such data may well provide a springboard for targeted campaigns.
Missing Women on the Streets
Women are not just missing, the women who are alive are also missing from public life. In 2016-17, I estimated the percentage of men on the streets in Delhi. I found,
On average about 81.5% of the people on the street were men. The average proportion of men across various locations was 86.7% which suggests that somewhat busier places have somewhat more women.
Missing Female Head of Households
In the US, about 42% of the households have women as the primary breadwinner of the household with another 22% of the households having a woman as a co-breadwinner. In India, only about 12% of the households are led by a woman.
No Missing Employed Women on TV
In some cases, television is at the avant garde of tackling corrosive stereotypes. For instance, the American crime show Law and Order under-represents Blacks as violent criminals by 400%. Indian television soaps do not seem to be party to such trends. In 2015, my mom and I tallied the percentage of employed women on television shows in India. We found that just about 36.6% of the female characters of working age are shown as working. (Notes: 1. One show explains a bulk of these employed women. 2. The percentage of women over 15 who are working or looking for work in India is also about a third.)
No Missing Daughters of Indian Politicians
In 2014, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha members on the whole did not seem to have missing daughters.
Universal Malaise
Discrimination based on sex may not be universal in time but it is universal in space.
We compute the number of missing women in the United States in 1900. There is a remarkable congruence between these numbers and what we observe in the three regions today. Expressed as a proportion of the female population, the number of missing women in the United States in 1900 is larger than in India and China today, and slightly smaller than in sub-Saharan Africa.

Did you enjoy this issue?
If you don't want these updates anymore, please unsubscribe here.
If you were forwarded this newsletter and you like it, you can subscribe here.
Powered by Revue