Wednesday, August 26, 2009

On the growing gender imbalance among young Vietnamese

IPS' Helen Clark reports that Vietnam is joining that cluster of East Asian countries marked by a strongly male-biased sex ratio, following the standard rationale.

Vietnam is something of a regional leader when it comes to gender equality. There are laws against domestic violence and discrimination, and very high female literacy.

Yet its sex ratio is skewed. For every 100 girls born, there are 112 boys. People prefer sons.

"If you have sons and they have children, they will carry on the family name," says Ngo Thi Thanh Nhan, 32. "People want boys so when they are pregnant with girls - abortion. This thinking must change," she adds, cradling her second daughter who is less than a month old.

In keeping with Vietnamese tradition, mother and child will remain confined to their home in District 10, Ho Chi Minh city, for the next two months.

Nhan watches as female relatives coo over her daughter, Dang Nghi. "I prefer girls but my husband likes boys. Boys and girls are the same, I think," she says. Will she have a third child? No, she has been sterilised.

The Population Ordinance, restricting families to two children, was reinstated in November 2008, after being rescinded in 2003. It was originally brought in during the mid-1980s thanks to government fears of a population boom and corresponding strains on resources.

Vietnam's sex ratio at birth (SRB) has been rising steadily for the past few years, from the "average" 105 boys to 100 girls in 1999 to 110:100 in 2006. This year it topped at an average of 112:100.

There are regional variances, with rates remaining around the natural average in the southern Mekong provinces but rising as high as 120:100 in the northeast. This mirrors neighbouring China with its one child law, repealed only recently. The SRB there had climbed to 120:100.

A recent UNFPA report noted, "(The) SRB is a reliable indicator of women's status in terms of gender inequality." "Confucian values" which prize sons over daughters and men over women have been blamed in part. Vietnam traditionally has been a patrilineal society, with sons responsible for caring for parents in old age. Daughters, who marry and leave, are considered "outsiders".

"If you don't have a son you are considered finished. You don't have happiness or luck in your life," Dr Nguyen Dang Anh, a research fellow at the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences, told IPS via phone.

The General Statistics Office of Vietnam suggests that, as a result of past war casualties and male-dominated emigration flows, there is a slight excess of women over men for the population as a whole, as the tables for men and women illustrates. This new trend, then, is a change.

Back in 2006, Edward and I examined the consequences of an artificially-created excess of male children over female. By taking so many children out of the reproductive equation, for instance, replacement-level fertility rates in Vietnam have been biased upwards just as much as by infant mortality, as per Aslak's post. The longer-term consequences for Vietnam also bear consideration, since as Edward pointed out last year Vietnam actively promotes emigration, particularly but not only temporary emigration, while one of the most notable vehicles for female emigration is through "marriage migration", joining male partners in wealthy similarly gender-unbalanced East Asia countries like South Korea and Taiwan.


Anonymous said...

Isn't Vietnam the country all the Japanese and Korean farmers go to get a bride? i think that will a more important problem than the missing baby girls

Randy McDonald said...

Japan has a normal sex ratio, but not South Korea. Taiwan shares in South Korea's issue.

As for the marriage migration, it's a notable phenomenon but one that will ultimately have less import than the domestic deficit of girls because the number of marriage migrants are relatively few.

Wolfgang G. said...

According to the "2008 Revision Population Database" , 7.183 million women older than 50 corresponded to only 5,526 million men older than 50 in Vietnam of 2005 (i.e. for every 100 women only 77 men).

This is strong evidence for a higher mortality of men, and a higher male mortality entails in a very natural way a male-biased sex ratio at birth.

According to the same database, from 1990 to 2005, as many as 690 thousand female deaths corresponded to 654 thousand male deaths.

Can this actually be true (e.g. because of the war)? Or is it simply an error? Or could it even represent an example of disinformation?

Wolfgang G. said...

"According to the same database, from 1990 to 2005, as many as 690 thousand female deaths corresponded to 654 thousand male deaths."

Correct is this:

According to the same database, from 1990 to 2005, as many as 3.45 million female deaths corresponded to 3.27 million male deaths.(The orginal figures are per-year for 5-year-periods.)

Anonymous said...

Do you think that will be true when India and China have men without brides?