Result of India’s Son Preference: 21 Million ‘Unwanted’ Girls, 63 Million ‘Missing’ Women, Says Economic Survey

File photo of Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian.

File photo of Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian.

The survey noted that the phenomenon son metapreference involved parents adopting fertility “stopping rules” – having children until the desired number of sons are born.

Aishwarya Kumar
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New Delhi: The pink-color Economic Survey 2017-18 tabled in Parliament on Monday laid emphasis on gender issues and the preference for a male child in Indian society.

The survey noted that the phenomenon son meta-preference involved parents adopting fertility “stopping rules” – having children until the desired number of sons are born.

This meta-preference, the survey added, leads naturally to the notional category of “unwanted” girls which is estimated at over 21 million. In some sense, once born, the lives of women are improving but society still appears to want fewer of them to be born, the survey noted.

“Such meta-preference for boys gives rise to “unwanted” girls–girls whose parents wanted a boy, but instead had a girl. This chapter presents the first estimate of such notionally “unwanted” girls. This is computed as the gap between the benchmark sex ratio and the actual sex ratio among families that do not stop fertility. This method yields the number of unwanted girls as 21 million,” the survey noted. The ‘son preference’ was giving rise to sex selective abortion and differential survival has led to skewed sex ratios at birth and beyond. This has further led to an estimated 63 million ‘missing women.’

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The assessment on gender issues was made on three aspects—agency (relates to women’s ability to make decisions on reproduction, spending on themselves, spending on their households and their own mobility and health), attitudes (relate to attitudes about violence against women/wives, and the ideal number of daughters preferred relative to the ideal number of sons) and outcomes (relate to ‘son preference’ measured by sex ratio of last child, female employment, choice of contraception, education level, age at marriage, age at first birth and physical or sexual violence experienced by women) which aim to reflect the status, role and empowerment of women in the society.

The survey has found improvement in many of these indicators, including the agency women have in decision making regarding household purchases, visiting family. “There has been a decline in the experience of physical and sexual violence. Education levels of women have improved dramatically but incommensurate with development,” the survey noted.

The survey also noted that percentage of women who work has declined over time, from 36% of women being employed in 2005-06 to 24 percent of women being employed in 2015-16. The survey further noted that increased incomes of men allowed women to withdraw from the labour force; “thereby thereby avoiding the stigma of working; higher education levels of women also allow them to pursue leisure and other non-work activities all of which reduce female labour force participation.”

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