Boys Will be Boys - Gender Imbalances in China and India

It is tremendously difficult to stay on top of all the interesting issues being discussed in the econsphere but I am trying. One of the recent much worthwhile entries in the sea of daily high quality postings comes from Emmanuel over at the IPEZone. The issue which can be attached the heading of 'Gender Imbalances' in China and India has been discussed several times over at the group blog Demography.Matters (of which I am a member). Regarding the immediate topic at han the state of play is best provided by a quote from Emmanuel himself ...

Bloomberg columnist Bill Pesek is on a roll nowadays as this is the second straight column of his featured here. I've had some posts on the possible future consequences of the lopsided gender imbalance in China [1, 2]. Although there is a bantough on those who violate the ban, the gender imbalance there keeps worsening. India also suffers from the same problem due to, among other things, the still-widespread tradition of dowry in which the family of the bride is obligated to give that of the groom a bounty that would-be parents want to avoid. China and India have the dubious distinction of being #1 and #2 in gender imbalances worldwide. As I have already written more about China and its imbalance, let us focus here on India.

The chart above is taken from a page where you can drill down further to the district level to see demographic imbalances in India. Meanwhile, the Times of India decries this imbalance in modern India:
on sex-selective abortion in place and officials vow to get

Now, let me begin with the simple yet most important notion that China and India, although often lumped together in many contexts, are vastly different when it comes to overall demographic dynamics. The obvious reason for this is that while India's economy currently is riding the wave of the demographic dividend this same process in China has been more or less effectively halted by the effects and indeed lingering aspects of China's one child policy. This means and without going too much into what is clearly a very complex set of issues China is set to age much more rapidly than India. Furthermore and as a side point this is an important issue to keep in the back of the mind at all those dinner conversations where China's population size is discussed when it is really the age composition which should be the main topic. As regards to the demographic profiles the two countries in question Demography.Matters has categories of the two countries; India and China. Needless to say, these two categories field some very worthwhile pieces on the demographics of these two large and significant countries. 

Returning to the topic at hand Emmanuel quotes a Bloomberg column by Bill Pesek in which Pesek tries to flesh out some of the issues.

No matter what one calls it, the desire for sons in China, India and other Asian economies is causing a dangerous gender gap. In China, for example, 120 boys were born for every 100 girls in 2005, according to a new United Nations report. This growing testosterone glut is something investors making long-term bets on Asia should be monitoring, and closely.

Pesek goes further to outline a number of socio-economic issues which may follow on the back of these imbalances and in particular in case they potentially remain and perhaps even aggragavate. The issues include topics such as the potential for a surge in trafficking activity as females become a traded commodity for pleasure as well as social unrest as women in general become a scare ressource as males struggle to find females as spouses. Now, I don't want to argue against Pesek but I do want to attach some more general and essentially economic/demographic terms to this issue which is surely not to be neglected. Firstly, we need to understand that while both India and also to some although much lesser extent China have growing and comparatively young populations gender imbalances are going to have a strong derivative effect on fertility. This is a logical extension from the fact that as the proportion of women fall in a society it also depresses the potential number of mothers. This also highlights the fact that while the mechanisms serving to depress total fertility rates (TFR) through the quantum and tempo effect of fertility as fundamental characteristics of the ongoing demographic transition gender imbalances would work on the aggregate levels of life births which is an equally crucial measure of a society's birth dynamics. Most people and indeed economists and social scientists are not at this point in time worried about the changing age composition of India and China. However, they should be and this goes especially for China which is also why gender imbalances in China only serve to paint a picture of a country, where TFR is already by some accounts running at 1.3, set to age very rapidly as we move forward. Furthermore, and this is where Pesek's points link in the gender imbalances are almost sure to leave strong footprints on the life course (e.g. time of mariage, first child etc) and also as a derivative the life cycle (consumption and savings behaviour over the life course) of Indian and Chinese people. Especially, concerning the life course the lingering and growing gender imbalances are likely to exert a strong distorting influence.

What is left as a main point is difficult to say at this point. If this is a widespread Asian phenomenon the ensuing imbalance and distortion could be enormous and given the tradtional slow movement with which demographic changes occur the current trend will take a lot of time and effort to reverse. And while I am here let me attach a few comments on the latter point, namely effort and more specifically effort relative to demographic changes and challenges. As such and on the day when the UN sanctioned Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) publishes its last and synthetic (i.e. summarising) report on the seeming dire state of the affairs in the global environmental and ecological system I cannot but feel a bit surprised. At this point you would of course be a fool not to recognize the impending threat and subsequent large challenge set before the world and essential global political/economic system in knitting together a workable solution to counter and re-balance the humans' emissions of green house gasses. However, we also have a social and economic system to cater about you know and now where the UN's research department for climate and environmental affairs has seen their bulk data collection and research base aptly upgraded perhaps it is time to divert scientific resources elsewhere. Because I can tell you this; last time I looked at official estimates and projections of the number of people the world is supposed to be inhabited by in 2050 as well as the supposed global demographic structure in 2050 on the back of a supposed rise in TFR some time between 2020 and 2030 I was left with a rather mute feeling. But I suppose it will take quite some time before this trickles through and meanwhile as the poles are heading for a meltdown so are, I am sad to say, whole economies*.

*As a qualifier I should say here that this does not go for India and China in the first instance but rather for countries such as e.g. Japan, Italy, Germany and those poor countries in Eastern Europe.