Surplus men

by Anastas Vangeli

There is an ongoing debate, in China and elsewhere, about sex-selective abortion, its justification and its consequences. Sex-selective abortion is the practice of ending pregnancy contingent on the revealing of the sex of the fetus, as parents have strong preferences of what kind of kid they want to have – more often it is a son-rather-than-daughter preference. So when parents who have a son-preference find out that the fetus is female, they simply decide to abort it and have another try to conceive a male one.

I mentioned China, as it is the seriously affected by this phenomenon. Patriarchal cultural norms [including the belief that boys take better care of aging parents than girls do], have cemented the view that having a boy is much better than having a girl. After the government has introduced the one-child family planning policy in 1978 [obliging the majority of Chinese citizens to having only one kid, imposing various penalties on those who breach it, in order to alleviate overpopulation], for many parents-to-be, having a boy has become an even bigger priority than ever before – they now had one chance to secure their posterity, and it better not be a girl. The advancement of medical technology and its accessibility, and the possibility to find out the sex of the fetus in the early stage of pregnancy has facilitated the trend of sex-selective abortion – many women decided to have abortion after finding out that they were carrying a female fetus. In addition, mothers who couldn’t afford abortion, after giving birth to girls, abandoned them or even attempted infanticide [see this particular episode of House MD on that matter / sorry for the spoiler]. Yet, sex-selective abortion is a tendency merely across the whole developing world. Another significant case is India, for instance. In other countries, especially in the Arab world, a more common practice is infanticide.

The major consequence of sex-selective abortions and infanticide is of course, gender imbalance:

The norm should be around 105 boys for every 100 girls. But in China the ratio is around 121 to 100; in India and Vietnam 112 to 100; in Albania 110 to 100.

The main sufferers of the negative consequences of these trend are – men; yet they impose a threat for societies at large. The gender issues for the so called “surplus” men might have a strong impact on society:

The future [of the “surplus men”] could be very grim. Marriage, scientists have found, actually makes men more peaceable – it lowers quantities of testosterone, thereby making men less likely to attempt risky behaviour, and seemingly calmer and less likely to be depressed. […] single young men are far more likely to commit violence than their married peers, and are more likely to be in poor health. Already, parts of India, China and other countries with skewed sex ratios have witnessed higher rates of crime, a result in part of angry and bored young men looking for outlets for rage. […]

In the worst nightmares of the authorities in Beijing, these angry young men could turn against the state. Within a decade, China could have 30 million men who cannot find wives, and similar skewed ratios will plague many other developing countries, including tinderboxes like Pakistan and Tunisia. It is too soon to tell how sex ratios affect the Middle East, but history shows that a surplus of men often sparks attempts to topple the government, and certainly large numbers of angry young men have led the front lines of revolts from Libya to Syria to Yemen, as well as manning the ranks of terrorist groups such as al Qa’eda. […]

Surplus men will not mean an easier life for women, either. In theory, skewed sex ratios might make women more desirable. But so far, just the opposite has happened. In places with the most skewed sex ratios, “honour crimes”, such as the killing of sisters who have supposedly dishonoured their family, have increased. Across developing nations, the skewed sex ratios have fostered a rising trade in girls and young women, either through bridal agencies that match them voluntarily to foreign men or, too often, through criminal syndicates that kidnap girls to sell them to suitors in other countries. […] In China, Hvistendahl finds, syndicates grab girls in counties with more equal sex ratios, to sell them to men in places where there are fewer young women.

Another trend [or perception?] makes life even harder for “surplus men” in China and Asia in general, is the alleged preference of Asian women for foreign men [I couldn’t find anything scientifically relevant on the topic, only entries at two mushy blogs that cover “youth” topics – 1 and 2plenty of material can be found on YouTube, too]. Yet, I assume that it is the growing number of single Asian men due to the gender imbalance, rather than the preferences of Asian women, that is the key for constructing this image.

* * *

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The strong preference for male children has doomed the lives of a generation of “sons.”

Frustrations pile up and call for motion. Chinese authorities have done whatever it takes to prevent sex-selective abortion, and have launched a campaign against illegal sex-selective abortion clinics; moreover they have recognized the need to loosen the one-child policy [which also is a factor of the rapid greying of the Chinese] and that “economic and social status of rural families raising girls should be enhanced” [Xinhua].

And while these measures will initiate a long term change, a taboo question is what can be done to alleviate the present condensation of testosterone? Maybe importing brides from areas with surplus of women? Or promoting polyandry? Commercialization of prostitution? Mainstreaming non-heterosexual lifestyles? Governments need to embrace a radical, value-changing approach, for the current situation calls for that.