Journalist Mara Hvistendahl wrote “Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men.” By the time of the book’s publication, the estimate of missing women had grown to 160 million. The “elephant in the room” behind this terrible trend is abortion.
Nearly thirty years ago, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen wrote an essay in the New York Review of Books entitled “More than 100 Million Women are Missing.”
Sen didn’t mean “missing” as in “missing person.” He meant that in places like China and his native India there were more than 100 million fewer women than demographic trends suggested there should be.
Two decades later, journalist Mara Hvistendahl wrote “Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men.” By the time of the book’s publication, the estimate of missing women had grown to 160 million.
The “elephant in the room” behind this terrible trend is abortion. Demographers and other researchers first thought that the explanation must be that female infanticide—you know, the kind practiced in the ancient world—had somehow made a comeback.
Instead, they discovered that female children were being identified in utero, via amniocentesis or ultrasound, and then they were aborted. The combination of technology, preference for male children, government policies such as China’s infamous “One-Child Policy,” and legalized abortion had altered demographics from China to Albania.
Still, researchers downplayed this connection between abortion and the 100-million plus missing women. Hvistendahl, for example, placed far more emphasis on cultural attitudes and discrimination against women.
While these factors certainly play a role in the gender imbalance, without easy access to abortion this problem wouldn’t exist, at least not in its present form.
A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences makes the connection between abortion and gender imbalance more explicit. Researchers from Britain concluded that between 1970 and 2017, “sex-selective abortions resulted in about 23.1 million missing baby girls.”