10 Million Missing Chinese Girls?

In a New York Times op-ed piece, Beth Nonte Russell, author of a new book about adopting children from China, wonders where all the Chinese girls have gone:

According to a February 2005 report in The Weekend Standard, a Chinese business newspaper, demographers in China found a ratio of 117 boys per 100 girls under the age of 5 in the 2000 census. Thanks to China’s one-child policy, put into effect in 1979 in order to curb population growth, and a strong cultural preference for male children, this gender gap could result in as many as 60 million "missing" girls from the population by the end of the decade, enough to alarm even Chinese officials.

Chinese officials are alarmed because 60 million missing girls means 60 million boys with no prospect of marrying and settling down when they get older, a recipe for dissent, unrest, and crime (phenomena the Chinese government tends to lump together). Russell, herself the mother of two adopted Chinese girls, notes that foreign adoption of abandoned babies accounts for only a small fraction of the 60 million girls who won't be there. In 2005 about 8,000 Chinese girls ended up in the U.S., the most common destination, and last year the number fell to about 6,500. Other countries may account for a few thousand more each year. Sex-selective abortions are a much bigger contributor to the gender gap:

According to the International Planned Parenthood Federation (a term that takes on a whole new meaning when referring to China), there are about seven million abortions in China per year, 70 percent of which are estimated to be of females. That adds up to around five million per year, or 50 million by the end of the decade; so where are the other 10 million girls?

Actually, that adds up to only 2.8 million a year, the difference between the aborted boys and the aborted girls, so that's only 28 million over a decade. Russell suggests that many of the unaccounted-for girls stay in orphanages until adulthood, perhaps because they are deemed less adoptable than the ones Americans and other foreigners take home. That might help explain why adopted Chinese girls are, by and large, not only healthy but cute. Are there secret orphanages full of sickly, handicapped, and homely girls scattered through China?

Maybe, but it could also be that the estimate for sex-selective abortions, which are illegal in China, is not completely accurate. The "as many as 60 million" estimate for the girl shortage may be off as well. If so, perhaps the foreign demand for Chinese girls really is outstripping the supply, which is the reason the Chinese government gave when it recently announced it was tightening its criteria for adoptive parents.

Either way, Russell's policy prescription—scrap family size limits, in which case more girls would be born and fewer would be abandoned—is surely the right one. Whether or not it's enough to correct China's demographic imbalance, it is morally required.

This week, A.P. reports, the head of China's National Population and Family Planning Commission called the gender gap "a very serious challenge for China" but said the government would not change its population controls, including rules that generally allow urban couples no more than one child and rural couples no more than two. Instead it will rely on "education campaigns, punishments for sex-selective abortions and rewards—like retirement pensions—for parents who have girls."  

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  • Timothy||

    "If you have a girl, you get out of the gulag five months earlier! Isn't that a good deal, peasants? Are your masters not just?"

  • ||

    I wonder how big the imbalance has to become before Heinlein-esque polyandries become acceptable.

  • Jennifer||

    I can see why the Chinese are worried about overpopulation--I think that's a legitimate concern for them--but here's a radical suggestion: before resorting to coercive measures, open your goddamned borders and let people LEAVE if they want to.

  • Henry||

    Your information is a bit out of date. The latest research says that about three quarters of the missing women in China are due to the Hepatitis B virus, which alters the sex ratio of children being born:
    http://home.uchicago.edu/~eoster/hepb.pdf

  • Ellie||

    Mouse Army.

  • Bhh||

    Those poor guys are going to need a lot of one-hand internet material. Any investment opportunities? CSCO I guess.

  • ||

    Maybe my math is also wrong but 7E6 times .4 is a 2.8 Million. Not that this adds up to 60 million. Also when I was on tour in China in 2001 I saw a few adopted girls with their parents at the great wall for "one last look". However, I don't think that the one child rule is strictly enforced by the government. This is especially true in the farm lands where more childern mean more free labor.

  • ed||

    open your goddamned borders and let people LEAVE if they want to.

    Wouldn't they first have to have somewhere to go?
    Who wants a few million Chinese? Raise your hands.
    Don't be shy.

    Anyone?

  • ||

    Here again, the problem with state control of the media. We'll never know for sure what's going on in China. Neither will the Chinese. Jefferson really was right with his whole "newspapers and governments" thing.

  • ||

    > Chinese officials are alarmed because 60
    > million missing girls means 60 million boys
    > with no prospect of marrying and
    > settling down when they get older, a
    > recipe for dissent, unrest, and
    > crime....

    I don't see why this is a recipe for anything. I am 47 and have never been married. Yet I rarely dissent (a couple of blog comments don't count), I am not unrestful, and I have never committed a crime. So why should 60 million Chinese men?

  • ||

    The market forces will adjust for this imbalance in due time. In a few years when the ratio makes it really tough to get a mate, then girls will become much more valuable then boys. Couples will no longer be aborting the girls fetuses because they know that if they have a girl, she will have good odds that she can be selective in the male she marries, thereby marrying a richer/better looking/more educated spouse, than if the ratio was equal. So the Chinese girls around today should have it pretty good. This will change the Chinese perspective that females=bad, males=good in offspring and then eventually it will all even out.

  • Adam||

    Henry beat me to it, but if you dig mathematical/econometric modeling, I definitely recommend checking out Emily Oster's home page. Her paper on AIDS & untreated STI's is an eye-popper. I just started reading her Hep B & Missing Women paper (the above link) earlier this week, and it seems to be of the same caliber.

  • ||

    Tony, you're right. If 70 percent of 7 million aborted fetuses are female, that's 4.9 million, vs. 2.1 million male fetuses, for a difference of 2.8 million a year. I was so anxious to correct Russell's mistake (which I didn't notice until after I put up the post) that I erred in the opposite direction. It's fixed now.

  • ||

    If the Chinese population doesn't breed, who will future generations of gov't officials be able to kill? Where will the organs be harvested from?

    China. Fuck'em.

  • VM||

    Thanks for the link, Adam! Very cool!

  • ||

    Reinman, you honestly can't see trouble with millions of twenty year old men without girlfriends? Don't you remember what boys DO before the hormones kick in?

  • ||

    60 million expendable men would make quite the army.

  • ||

    "I don't see why this is a recipe for anything...."

    The expectation that men will marry is much greater in China. As I read somewhere, there is little tradition of life-long bachelors in Chinese culture, so the disappointment of men who can never marry will be much greater.

    I can believe that the gender imbalance is due to selective abortion. Something similar has occurred in India, where the pressure for male offspring has been met by a huge underground industry of illegal ultrasound tests and abortions.

  • ||

    "I don't see why this is a recipe for anything. I am 47 and have never been married."

    You've never been married, but you have the resources available to um, um....how should I say this?....um....get laid.

    60 million "bachelors" is one thing. 60 million guys that can't get laid because all of the women are married, yeah, you're gonna have a problem.

  • ||

    Quite the expensive army, Guy.

    Russell suggests that many of the unaccounted-for girls stay in orphanages until adulthood, perhaps because they are deemed less adoptable than the ones Americans and other foreigners take home. That might help explain why adopted Chinese girls are, by and large, not only healthy but cute. Are there secret orphanages full of sickly, handicapped, and homely girls scattered through China?

    Is it just me, or is everyone be very careful and polite not to mention the obvious answer to the conundrum of the missing girls:

    Infanticide.

  • ||

    I'd like to think that the undesirable consequences of this misogynistic behaviour in these societies (China, India) will cause them to re-evaluate the relative value of male vs. females.

    I'd like to think that, but I don't.

  • ||

    The previous post was me, not the fictional Alice. That's what you get for being cute.

  • Adam||

    I wasn't clear before nor was Henry, but Oster's research seems to have "re-discovered" approximately 75% of China's missing women.

    They are "missing" due to high rates of hepatitis B infection in China. Women with hep B give birth to a disproportionate number of males.

    VM - no problem, glad someone checked it out - she's on her way to being a rock star, and I'm a groupie!!

  • ||

    You people act like the Chinese have souls...

  • ||

    Historically, societies with sizeable numbers of young "foot-loose" men running around have had higher levels of violence.

    Witness Renaissance Italy.

  • ||

    Mostly off-topic, but not really a threadjack:

    George Will's column in the current Newsweek is a nuanced anti-abortion piece.

    What did Jon Will and the more than 350,000 American citizens like him do to tick off the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists? It seems to want to help eliminate from America almost all of a category of citizens, a category that includes Jon.


    It has become standard practice for women older than 35 years old to be offered genetic counseling and diagnostic testing. But because of the higher fertility rates of women under 35, such women have 80 percent of Down syndrome babies. So new ACOG guidelines recommend that all pregnant women, regardless of age, be offered such counseling and testing.


    As the father of a man with Down syndrome, Will worries that we will see a drastic reduction in the number of Down syndrome babies allowed to be born.

    Will wrote about his son here also.

  • creech||

    Maybe all these missing Chinese women is where Allah is getting the 72 virgins for each of his martyrs?

  • ||

    How much for the little girl? How much for the women?

  • kraorh||

    Leigh,
    The market forces will adjust for this imbalance in due time. In a few years when the ratio makes it really tough to get a mate, then girls will become much more valuable then boys. Couples will no longer be aborting the girls fetuses because they know that if they have a girl, she will have good odds that she can be selective in the male she marries, thereby marrying a richer/better looking/more educated spouse, than if the ratio was equal. So the Chinese girls around today should have it pretty good. This will change the Chinese perspective that females=bad, males=good in offspring and then eventually it will all even out.

    Maybe, and certainly that would be ideal. But you'd have to understand, they're facing thousands of years of cultural tradition. Girls are seen as burdens, more than anything else, because according to traditions of Confuscian filial piety. When a woman marries, she moves out of her parents' house into the house of her husband's family. The husband doesn't normally set up his own house - he stays with his parents. The wife becomes a member of their household, and is supposed to leave her old family completely behind. This means that if a couple only has daughters, there will be no one to care for them when they get old.

    So basically, this would have to change. And keep in mind, Mao tried to wipe out Confuscian filial piety, amongst practically everything traditional about China (apart from the tradition of despotic rule) during the Cultural Revolution, and it didn't quite work out so nicely. But then, market forces could succeed where tyranny and bloodshed failed. I don't know, though, how. Would families with girls be offered large dowries, instead of the other way around, so as to provide for the couple in their old age?

  • howard roark||

    The Chinese government could always start encouraging men to have gay sex.

  • ||

    "The Chinese government could always start encouraging men to have gay sex."

    Like in Joe Haldeman's "The Forever War".

    But in the short term this situation will lead to greater hardships for women as more young girls will be forced into prostitution.

  • anonymous||

    Don't forget the ugly-but-obvious explanations - in some rural societies, peasants' unwanted babies are traditionally left exposed to the elements. This may account for many of the missing girls.

  • Larry A||

    it is morally required.

    Irrelevant to China's government.

    The market forces will adjust for this imbalance in due time.

    Irrelevant in China's economic model.

  • wingnutx||

    Mouse Army.

  • ||

    "allow urban couples no more than one child . . ."

    Urban couples? Even in China, they're picking on the African-Americans!

  • Author Talia||

    There are some answers to the "mystery" featured in Ms. Russell article. In China, 1.7 million girls disappear each year (a figure extrapolated from the 2005 UNICEF annual birth report and the Chinese government 2006 report of boys-girls ratio.) Furthermore, in 1995, before clamming up on the figures relating to its orphanages, the Chinese government reported 40,000 "social welfare" institutions. A few hundreds of them have been either improved or disbanded due to Western charities' involvement. That still leaves over 39,000 institutions where "orphans" (misnomer for abandoned infants) still live in inhuman conditions, often doomed to fatal neglect. In addition, 2005 China Quarterly reports between 300,000-400,000 abandoned children who fall between jurisdictions and therefore are not even in orphanages.
    But the government of the People's Republic of China will never admit that life in the West is a better choice than the death of its children.

    Sincerely,

    Talia Carner
    Author, China Doll
    www.TaliaCarner.com

  • دردشة يمنية||

    nice

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