In nature, there’s a rigid human sex ratio of 105 boys for every 100 girls, but the invention of amniocentesis and the ultrasound in the 1970s led to massive skewing of these normal proportions, as couples around the world decided to abort their female fetuses. These sex-specific abortions—an estimated 163 million in the last 40 years—have trickled down from societal elites in such places as China and India to the middle and lower classes, creating a nation-wide dearth of girls over time. Though originally seen as a way to obtain more “desirable” offspring, scientists predict the long-term effect of female abortions will cause or exacerbate serious problems: crime rates in areas with “surplus males,” the spread of prostitution and mail-order bride services, as well as the creation of a female underclass. Are efforts to change such birth preferences, which are often deeply ingrained in many cultures, likely to meet with success? And does criticism of parents’ choices to abort their female offspring bolster women’s rights and conditions, or actually run contrary to the pro-choice movement?
Mara Hvistendahl,Beijing-based correspondent for Science; author of Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men