Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Having Fun with the Male-to-Female Ratio

In a recent post, Gendercide, I performed a simple calculation to determine the number of missing females in India given that India and the US would have the same birth ratio and India had a higher male-to-female ratio than our country. The implication was that Indian society had rendered, either through abortion or neglect, many millions of women "not alive." I subsequently learned that while the calculation was indicative of the correct conclusion, the approach was flawed.

The net male-to-female ratio for India was 1.08, while that for the US was 0.963. Now consider this chart of the census data on the US male-to-female-ratio.

Given this variation, what is the appropriate number to use if we are going to compare our country with India? This chart is actually rather interesting. The excess of males in the early years was probably due in part to the fact that our population was still strongly influenced by immigration which was a male-dominated activity. But could there be something else going on? Is it too much of a coincidence that 1920, the year the population of females began to grow, was the year that women received the right to vote? Could it be that politicians suddenly realized that a dead woman might mean a lost vote and began to worry about women’s health issues?

Consider now the variation of this ratio as a function of age.

First of all, how could I be doing calculations involving megadeaths when I didn’t even know that the natural ratio at birth for all humans is about 1.05? Another complicating factor is the gradual increase in mortality in males which begins much earlier than I would have thought. Male chauvinists would point out that men begin to die more quickly than women at about the time they get married. Fortunately I am not one of those types. Note that the first chart indicates men are beginning to regain some of their longevity. Could it be that the increased divorce rate has had a curative effect on men?

There is a better way to do the "Gendercide" calculation by looking at more detailed data. One can find here data on the male-to-female ratio in different age groups for all the countries of the world. The US and the major developed countries, UK, France, Germany, and Canada, have populations with ratios that are remarkably similar. Therefore, let us compare India and US population data and assume that the US is "normal."

At birth the male-to-female ratio in India is 1.12. In the US it is 1.05. In a country like India with a population of about 1.2 billion you have to eliminate many millions of women in order to raise that ratio to 1.12. Hopefully this is being accomplished by abortion and not infanticide. Now consider the ratio for the population segment over age sixty-five. In countries where both males and females have access to decent medical care, women just tend to live longer. In this age group in the US the ratio falls to 0.75. In India it stays up at 0.9, indicating again that many millions of women are missing due to death from neglect. If one uses these numbers to estimate how many women "disappear" from Indian society it is a "mere" 40 million rather than the 60 million quoted in "Gendercide."

Several significant societies have created situations whereby they must live with an excess of males. What might the ramifications of this imbalance be for such a country? The most obvious thing to take into consideration is that men without women tend to get a bit cranky. It has been suggested that the US’s male-dominated frontier experience might be the explanation for why the US is so much more prone to violence than the European countries from which most of us originated. In a balanced society, young men will spend large fractions of their waking hours chasing women. This is not a particularly productive activity, but it does tend to take some of the rough edges off of them and render them a bit more domesticated. In an unbalanced society, the only access to women might be via consorting with prostitutes—not an activity destined to bring out the best in a man.

Others have suggested that there can be a serious problem. China has a name for their excess males. Recognizing their lack of a mate, they are referred to as "bare branches." A few years ago a couple of political scientists put out a book entitled Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia’s Surplus Male Population. A review of the book is available here. These authors were concerned that a country like China would have so many energetic but frustrated young males that it might have to create some sort of adventure to keep them occupied. War is the traditional way to deal with excess males. I find their concern to be way overblown.

Kristof and WuDunn, in Half the Sky, suggest another area in which an excess of males can be problematic. In this case the paucity of females is somewhat artificial. Middle Eastern countries often have disproportionately large number of adolescents. A youth spent chasing women is not available in those cultures. The problem is not so much that there are too few women, but that the men cannot get their hands on them. The existence of polygamy also means that rich men can gobble up more than their share of women.
"Young men in such countries grow up in an all-male environment, in a testosterone-saturated world that has the ethos of a high school boy’s locker room. Organizations made up disproportionately of young men—whether they be gangs or boys’ schools or prisons or military units—are often particularly violent. We expect that this can be true of entire countries."

"The inability of a young man to settle down in a family may increase the likelihood of his drifting towards conservative Muslim countries, some young men make war, not love."
I find this observation on the significance of an excess of males to be more credible. It might help explain the ease with which terrorist organizations seem to be able to recruit young men. In any event, it is an interesting issue over which to ponder.

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