Saturday, September 02, 2006

How do rich Asians adapt to unbalanced sex ratios?

In a recent issue of Le Monde Diplomatique, Isabelle Attané describes in her article "L'Asie manque de femmes", the boy-biased ratio of boys to girls at birth in many of the largest countries of Asia: 117 in China, 111 in India, 110 in Taiwan, 108 in South Korea, 106 in Indonesia. This excess is a relatively recent phenomenon, beginning only in the 1980s when the demographic transition accelerated in these countries and parents, unwilling to incur cultural and economic disadvantages of bearing daughters to full term, began to produce only sons. Attané concludes her article with an apocalyptic floush, invoking the images of social collapse produced by such a global excess of Lebanese Amin Maalouf's 1992 novel The First Century After Beatrice (Le premier siècle après Béatrice).

"If tomorrow men and women could, by a simple way, decide the sex of these children, certain peoples would only choose boys. They would stop reproducing and, soon, disappear. Today a social flaw, the culture of the male will become a group suicide," that what will happen will be an "autogenocide of misogynistic populations." Before that, in Maalouf's vision, will come decades of civil and international war as resentful single men fight it out among themselves.

Poor regions suffering from serious sex imbalances will face serious problems indeed, perhaps even the something like the depopulation-related strife that Maalouf described. Richer regions, though, can import their women from poorer regions. This is already happening on a large scale in China, where not only women from poorer parts of China but ambitious emigrants from Vietnam are entering the marriage market in richer areas. In Taiwan and South Korea, two wealthy countries with pronounced sex ratios in favour of men, the immigration of women from poorer countries--Vietnam, the Philippines, China--has taken on remarkably large dimensions, as Attané notes in the case of Taiwan.

These marriage migrations are also growing strongly towards Taiwan, where nearly 8% of the marriages celebrated in 2000 involved a Taiwanese man and a Vietnamese woman. Since the mid-1990s, Vietnam has provided spouses to several hundred thousand Taiwanese men, wanting a women who respects their shared traditional values and who is less likely to demand their independence than a Taiwanese woman.

In South Korea, despite growing concerns about the fate of these female emigrants and considerable prejudice against children born in mixed-nationality marriages, this immigration is transforming the country's population.

About 800,000 foreigners make up Korea`s population of 48 million. The number of foreigners is expected to reach 1.5 million in the next five years, according to government data.

Moreover, there are rising numbers of mixed marriages in Korea. The number is increasing due to rural women moving into cities, leaving young farmers and fishermen to find brides from other Asian nations, particularly in Southeast Asia.

International marriages now make up 13 percent of all marriages in Korea. More than 30 percent of international marriages are unions between rural men and foreign brides.

According to Pearl S. Buck International, there are about 35,000 mixed-race children in Korea. About 15 percent of all newborns in Korea are from mixed marriages. That figure will likely double by 2020, the foundation said.


As Attané notes in her article, even though in South Korea at least the sex ratio is slowly returning to normal, the effects of the shortage of women will create a generation of men who will need to import women immigrants as spouses. This marriage immigration might be enough to handle the unbalanced sex ratios in the richer parts of Asia, though the prospects facing the poorer regions of China now and Southeast Asia and North Korea in the future aren't pleasant. It will also make these richer countries, where a double-digit percentages of children are born to marriages involving at least one foreign-born parent, rather spectacularly multicultural in the very near future. One only hopes that these receiving countries will do a better job of handling this population shift than some of their other counterparts.

8 comments:

CV said...

What is the global picture here? Are there not more women than men?

In any case, Asia is an interesting case study on this and it raises some interesting issues. Especially noteworthy is how the imbalance can affect poor regions I think. I mean, if we look at it women have a much brighter future here on earth than men do ... we are becoming redundant :)

Oh wait a moment ... are there not studies out there which predicts the slow but certain extinction of the male because of the demise of the (??) -salient- chromosomes?

I am fumbling in blind here :) but it just rings a bell ...

S.M. Stirling said...

China and India are simply too big to meet any demographic problem by immigration, and it's in China and India that the gender-imbalance problems are worst.

In China's case the imbalance will accelerate the results of very low fertility, driving the crude birth rate down below the level you'd expect with the current TFR's.

Edward said...

"China and India are simply too big to meet any demographic problem by immigration,"

Actually Stirling I basically agree with you, but there is a kind of strange anomaly here.

Since TFRs are measured on children per female, the situation will in fact be worse than the TFRs suggest, since the data will not reflect the number of childless men, who logically will be many more than the childless females.

So the real issue will be what is called population momentum, or the rate of natural increase in population, which of course will be negatively impacted much more than the TFRs. This will be seen, of course in the shape of the population pyramid, and the evolution of the dependancy ratios.

Claus

"What is the global picture here? Are there not more women than men?"

I don't know the overall global numbers, but the 'more females effect' is a characteristic of ageing societies. This is simply a product of the fact that women live longer. It also can be exacerbated in countries with very rapid male out-migration (eg almost all the ex Eastern bloc societies including Eastern Germany.

Edward said...

"and it's in China and India that the gender-imbalance problems are worst."

Actually Stirling this isn't quite the case. I just posted on this issue separately, but if you look at the table I link-to you will see that in Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, and , of course Saudi Arabia the problems are much worse.

Obviously India and China are the biggest issue becuase of their size and the scale of their looming future impact on the global economy. Equally Randy has a point in that an increasingly affluent China will be able to attract brides from poorer Asian countries, thus destabilising local marriage markets and impacting fertility without really doing anything substantial to resolve the issue in China itself. All-in-all, worrying.

The impact of globalisation is indeed going to be 'far'-reaching. Due to increased inter-connectedness, 'farther' is now increasingly nearer. Obviously we need to revise our dictionaries and take a second look at the exact meaning of phrases like 'far flung' :).

Robert said...

Oh wait a moment ... are there not studies out there which predicts the slow but certain extinction of the male because of the demise of the (??) -salient- chromosomes?

The idea was that mutations will accumulate in the Y chromosome until it is useless; all the genes on it will be broken. Since the idea was put forth, I have seen one study that claimed that this does not appear to be happening in human beings; apparently selection is succeeding in preserving the function of Y-chromosome genes. The same study, though, gave evidence that it was happening among chimpanzees, and theorized that chimp courtship behavior, which resembled a gang rape more than anything else, has selected for large sperm counts to the detriment of other traits, and the chimp Y chromosome does contain numerous broken genes.

ramki830 said...

One of the practical ways by which unbalanced sex ratios are resolved is by raising the mean age of marriage/sexual intercourse of men relative to women.

In other words, if a society has fewer women than men, then the men are made to wait much longer (than women) to get a partner. Since men live shorter lives than women, it means that the deficit is resolved by much greater proportion of women's lives being spent in wedlock (relative to men)

Why has this not been given much attention?

PS - I however believe that the Asian imbalance (of less girls and more boys) will reverse itself in next 3-4 decades. Then, what happens?

Edward said...

Ramki830

"In other words, if a society has fewer women than men, then the men are made to wait much longer (than women) to get a partner. Since men live shorter lives than women, it means that the deficit is resolved by much greater proportion of women's lives being spent in wedlock (relative to men)"


Well this can work to some extent if each suceeding generation is slightly larger than the one before, then the ratio equalises, but when the pyramid inverts then you get smaller generations and an even greater male disproportion. All pyramid systems seem to work line this (ie, they run out of steam), then you get 'what goes up must come down'.

"PS - I however believe that the Asian imbalance (of less girls and more boys) will reverse itself in next 3-4 decades. Then, what happens?"

Not really sure, but then, beyond a certain point I have problems with futurology. I think, as I said on the other post, lets get through the next couple of decades, and then those who are around will get to see how to handle what happens next.

ramki830 said...

Edward,

You are indeed right. I could then add that the problem (of men unable to find partners) would get more serious in China and Korea (where the age pyramid inversion is getting deeper) as opposed to India/West Asia (atleast in the near future).

And for the futurology thing,it was just an observation of mine. The huge preference for male children (in India) is an unfortunate fact but there is growing awareness plus discomfort about this issue ;Add to it the spread of political correctness (from elite to the rest); And thanks to ICT, this is going to happen faster. I would therefore dare to predict that pendulum would swing to other side soon.

PS- One interesting data reported in print media : Adoption centres in India find that 6 out of 10 potential adopters in India prefer girl children.