India’s Preference For Boys Has Produced 21 Million “Unwanted Girls”

For all the social campaigns and awareness drives to end sex selection in India, the preference for sons is still going strong. In recent years, though, it has taken a more subtle form.

Many Indian parents are opting to continue having children till they have the desired number of sons, shows the economic survey 2017-18 (pdf), released on Jan. 29. The survey calls this the son “meta” preference, and suggests that while it avoids sex-selective abortion, it can still hurt female children by reducing the resources available to them.

“Families where a son is born are more likely to stop having children than families where a girl is born. This is suggestive of parents employing ‘stopping rules’,” says the survey, which was led by chief economic advisor Arvind Subramanian.

As a result of this son meta preference, the economic survey estimates that India could have as many as 21 million “unwanted girls,” i.e., girls whose parents wanted to have sons instead.

To come to this conclusion, the survey looked at an indicator called the sex ratio of the last child (SRLC), using decades of data from the demographic and health survey. This indicator is likely to be heavily skewed in favour of boys if the society has a preference for sons—unfortunately, exactly what is seen in India.

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