What Should China Do About its Gender Imbalance Problem?

E-merge, Vol. 4, May 2003

33 Pages Posted: 20 May 2004


China's male-female sex ratio at birth (SRB) has been increasing since the mid 1980s, shortly after the implementation of the one-child policy. According to 1999 official figures released by China, the gender imbalance has increased dramatically to 117 boys for every 100 girls, up from 106 boys for every 100 girls in the 1960s and 1970s. Initially, the gender imbalance received little attention from the Chinese leaders and was not open to public debate, due to government's focus on controlling population size. However, as the negative effects of the problem become more evident, both the Chinese people and government came to realize that this issue cannot continue to be ignored.

In general, three major factors are regarded as responsible for the problem: widespread preference for sons, increasing access to sex-selective abortion, and underreporting of female births. With few exceptions, previous research has centered on the causes and results of the sex imbalance and has contributed little to the exploration of measures to deal with the problem. In contrast, my focus in this paper is on developing policy recommendations to address the gender imbalance. Since some people blame the one-child policy for the gender imbalance, that policy is closely examined.

The results of my study can be summarized as follows. First, sex-identification of induced abortion due to the widespread use of sex-selective technology has directly contributed to the gender imbalance since 1980. Second, the lack of social security for the rural population, rather than the culture of preference for sons, is paramount in people's use of sex-selective abortion. Third, the gender imbalance is facilitated by the one-child policy though it is not a direct (or decisive) contributor to the sex imbalance. Fourth, the prospect that the sex imbalance will be self-corrected is dubious. Finally, it is a well-established social security system, rather than a well-developed economy, that can cure China's sex imbalance problem.

Based upon these findings, the paper recommends the following policies. 1) Abandoning the one-child policy is not an advisable, given that any relaxation in this policy may result in a substantial increase in total population due to a large population base. However, the focus of the family planning policy should be shifted from "number-oriented" to "people-oriented" through shifting the focus to measures that enhance quality of life, and by replacing coercion with voluntary participation.

2) Laws and regulations with respect to prohibiting sex-determination induced abortion and late-term abortion should be strictly enforced. The active collaboration of local governments with the central government will be key in this regard.

3) Policies should encourage the establishment of a social security system, most importantly an old age insurance system, for rural people.

4) The human rights of women and girls should be protected through the effective implementation of relevant laws and regulations. Great effort is required to improve the social and economic status of women so that they can have a bigger voice in both societal and family decision-making.

5) Men should be involved in family planning to reduce unwanted pregnancies - pregnancies which frequently end in sex-selective abortion.

6) Improved efforts to collect accurate data and to track the floating population should be made so that population policy can be well informed.

Keywords: China, gender imbalance, one-child policy, social security, abortion, sex ratio at birth, human rights, population, family-planning

Suggested Citation

Wang, Yonghong, What Should China Do About its Gender Imbalance Problem?. E-merge, Vol. 4, May 2003, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=547982

Yonghong Wang (Contact Author)

Duke University ( email )

NC 27708

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