Sex Ratios in India and the Consequences for Women

While reading The Economist a couple of weeks ago, an article on sex ratios in India practically jumped off the page. The article noted that with rising levels of literacy and education in states where sex ratios have remained relatively normal (mainly in southern states), sex ratios have actually started to decline, meaning fewer baby girls are being born relative to baby boys. In other states which have historically had a strong son preference, the situation has been improving. Although this problem has persisted for decades, what stood out most was how this affected the status of women.

Individuals unfamiliar with this pressing issue may assume that with declining numbers of women, dowry prices would decrease which would ultimately lead to a higher valuation of women. This argument seems logical because from an economist’s standpoint theory dictates that when supply falls, and demand rises, the value of the good increases. In the example of dowries, potential brides should be able to “shop around” for a husband and because he wants to be married, he will be willing to settle for a lower dowry. However, this is exactly the opposite of what is actually happening and seems very perplexing. Instead of falling dowries, they are increasing and consequently the value of women is eroding.

Even though Indian families acknowledge the need for more women because their sons are unable to find marriage partners, attitudes towards the importance of son preference have remained unchanged. Although sex selective abortions are illegal, families can find doctors who are willing to determine the sex of their baby. Instead of having more girls, some families have now resorted to paying a dalal, a broker, to find unwanted girls and bring them to paying families so that their sons have a guaranteed marriage partner. These trafficked girls come from India or even from Bangladesh and Myanmar.

The aforementioned article tells the story of a 12 year old orphan who was taken to a family in Kolta, south of Delhi, where she was mistreated and married to one of the family’s sons. When the girl began having children, she too realized the need for more girls and feared for her sons marriage prospects. Although a victim herself of human trafficking, she too has conceded that she will probably contract with a dalal in order to secure a future for her sons and for herself.

What strikes me the most is that this woman will do to other girls what has already happened to her. The fact that she is willing to essentially buy an unwanted girl for her sons to marry indicates to me that women do not value themselves. Education and rising income levels have often been cited as a silver bullet to change cultural attitudes towards women. However, this may not actually be the case. In order to change these current trends toward son preference, men and women need to see and understand the value of daughters and not view them as burdens or as only a means to secure a future for their sons.

The Economist. 2011. India’s skewed sex ratioSeven brothers – An aversion to having daughters is leading to millions of missing girls. The Economist, April 7, (Accessed: June 2, 2011).

—by JH


One thought on “Sex Ratios in India and the Consequences for Women

  1. GoodReason says:

    Economists are always dumbfounded by these types of seemingly aberrant behavior. It behooves economics to think about culture, I think!

    How sad that a woman will do the same terrible thing that was done to her to some other little girl . . .

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