Intensifying masculinity of sex ratios in India : new evidence 1981-1991
Rajan, S. Irudaya
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We use data from the 1981 and 1991 censuses of India to examine (a) sex ratios among infants aged under 2, (b) child mortality (q5) by sex, and (c) estimated period sex ratios at birth (SRB) calculated by reverse survival methods, to see whether bias against female children persists during development and fertility decline, and whether techniques of prenatal sex determination and abortion of female foetuses are spreading in India as elsewhere in Asia. In 1981, rural and urban infancy sex ratios and estimated SRB for most states appear within the ‘normal’ range (104-106 males/100 females). However, urban Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh and Jammu and Kashmir in the North / North-West zone appear masculine (108 or more). In 1991 however, these North / North-Western urban areas show starkly masculine SRB’s, as do the corresponding rural areas, Delhi, UP, and urban Gujarat, Bihar, Rajasthan, MP, Maharashtra, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Values reach as high as 118 for urban Punjab. The sex ratios of child mortality indicate that despite mortality declines, many regions that showed female disadvantage in 1981 continued to do so in 1991, and some areas worsened. Some Southern regions that showed ‘normal’ mortality sex ratios in 1981 now have ratios adverse to females in 1991. This increase in masculinity of period SRB’s indicates that the preference for male children in India is unchanged by fertility and mortality decline and socio-economic development. Since the increased masculinity is more in urban areas, which have higher literacy rates and better coverage of vital registration and health services, it suggests that the trend is due to the spread of prenatal sex determination and selective abortion of female foetuses rather than female under-registration or infanticide. The trend coexists with the excess female child mortality and female infanticide persisting in many parts of the country, for which we summarize evidence. In the aggregate, parents in India thus do not appear to be substituting prenatal for post-natal sex selection techniques.