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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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Many of China's Missing Girls May Not be Missing After All

A widely researched aspect of China's one-child policy, implemented back in 1979, was the rise in the sex ratio at birth. Census data revealed that there were far fewer girls at the youngest ages than you would have otherwise expected. The likely explanation seemed to be that millions of female fetuses had been aborted, or even that female infanticide was being practiced. While some of that probably did happen, a paper just published in the journal China Quarterly, suggests that many of these girls were in fact born, but were not registered until later--often years later. This was made possible largely through the complicity of local officials, largely in rural areas of China. The Washington Post has a summary, quoting John Kennedy at the University of Kansas, one of the study's authors:
“Most people are using a demographic explanation to say that abortion or infanticide are the reasons they don't show up in the census and that they don't exist. But we find there is a political explanation.” Local officials, they argue, were complicit in the concealment to retain support from villagers, and maintain social stability. “There is no coordination between cadres saying 'we're all in agreement,'” Kennedy said. “Actually it's just very local. The people who are implementing these policies work for the government in a sense. They are officials, but they are also villagers, and they have to live in the village where they are implementing policies.”
The authors first formed this idea back in 1996, but since one of the authors (Yaojiang Shi) is at a university in China, it was politically too risky until very recently to broach the subject publicly. The authors analyze age cohort data for older ages to show that, after accounting for probabilities of death, the sex ratios at older ages are closer than would be expected based on the highly skewed sex ratios at birth based on registered births. Parents were eventually paying the fine for the child so that she could attend school and eventually marry. Without her hukou registration, these things would not be possible.

These practices shed sad light on gender inequality in China. As the authors note in their paper: "This is associated with the virilocal marriage system whereby girls are raised by their natal family but then live with their husband’s family after marriage. Traditionally, daughters are considered to be 'born into another’s family.' As a result, there is no social or economic incentive for families, especially in the countryside, to have daughters." On the other hand, the acknowledgement that many of these missing girls aren't actually missing is good news for a government that has effectively ended the one-child policy in order to boost the age structure at the younger ages. And it means that the marriage for Chinese men may not be as bad as had been perceived, at least not in rural areas. 

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