This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Saturday, May 5, 2012

Missing Girl Babies in Canada

Asia has become famous for its distorted sex ratio at birth, caused by the desire for boy babies in an era of ultrasound procedures that allow the identification of a fetus's sex in utero. But Canada? This week's Economist reports on a study recently published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal showing that there were fewer girl babies being born in the province of Ontario than you would expect among the 767,000 babies born in the province between 2002 and 2007. Ontario takes in a lot of immigrants, and the key to the puzzle lay in the mother's country of origin.
For first-born children, the sex ratio was normal—105 baby boys to 100 baby girls (since boys are slightly more vulnerable to childhood diseases, this ratio provides for equal numbers at marriageable age). For second children, the ratio was normal for mothers born in Canada. But mothers born in South Korea bore 120 boys for each 100 girls. And for Indian, Filipina and other East Asian mothers, the ratio was 110-111 to 100. The explanation for this pattern in India is that couples welcome a first-born of either sex, but if she is a daughter, then some ensure the second child is a son. That applies even more to third children: in Ontario, mothers born in India gave birth to 1,883 sons and 1,385 daughters, a hugely distorted ratio of 136 to 100.
The only likely explanation is that some mothers from India are using information from ultrasound examinations to abort a female fetus. This sort of blatant and fatal gender bias is now illegal in both China and India, but of course even if it were illegal in Canada it would not likely stop until the parents themselves adapt to western cultural views of gender equality. However, the authors of the study note that despite the overall gender bias among immigrants from south Asia, the distorted sex ratio is much more pronounced among those from India--a secular state--than from Pakistan--an Islamic state where abortion is strictly forbidden by that religion.

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