Wednesday, April 18, 2012

On sex selection in Ontario

The new Canadian Medical Association Journal paper "Sex ratios among Canadian liveborn infants of mothers from different countries", by Ray, Henry, and Urquia got quite a bit of attention from the Canadian press today. Sex-selective abortions may be occurring among some immigrant communities in ontario.

Women born in India and living in Canada are slightly more likely to have male children than other mothers living in this country, raising the possibility of sex-selective abortions.

But the researchers warn that without any evidence documenting this trend, it’s impossible to conclude that female feticide is the only explanation.

“We need more data … or we have the risk of committing a wrong by filling in the blanks that need to be filled in by data, not assumptions,” said Joel Ray, lead author of the study and a physician and scientist at Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital who focuses on obstetrical medicine.

Researchers looked at data for all single (not twins or triplets) live births that took place in Ontario from 2002 to 2007 and categorized mothers based on their country of origin.

They found the ratio of male to female births was even for all women except those from India and South Korea. Women from those countries who had one prior child were much more likely to give birth to a boy. But the trend was much more noticeable for Indian-born mothers with two or more prior children.

The “normal” male to female birth ratio is considered to be 1.05. But the ratio for South Korean- and Indian-born women with one prior child at the time of delivery was 1.20 and 1.11, respectively. For Indian-born women with two children at the time of delivery, the ratio was 1.36, which dropped slightly to 1.25 if the woman had three or more children at the time of delivery.

A couple of ancillary news items have since appeared highlighting this--a Toronto Star report that some hospitals in communities with large South Asian populations, a CBC article describing how an American reproductive clinic has been advertising sex-selection services in an Indo-Canadian newspaper--and the press coverage has, creditably, emphasized the preliminary nature of the conclusions that sex selection is ongoing.

Ray acknowledged that there are gaps in his research — he could not determine the ethnicities of the Canadian-born mothers, for example, and his study also did not examine statistics around abortions, a focus Ray plans on pursuing next.

But the study’s greatest weakness is failing to determine the genders of the women’s previous children, said Prabhat Jha, chair of Disease Control at the University of Toronto. He also works at St. Michael’s Hospital as director of the Centre for Global Health Research.

“To really understand what these stats are, you have to understand what was the gender of the previous children in the family,” said Jha, who has done extensive research on female feticide in India.

“Selection happens at higher birth orders, which means you let nature decide the first child and if you have a girl, then a small number of homes say, ‘Well, we want a boy.’ That’s when they turn to sex-selective abortion.”

Even if this latest study proves that female feticide is happening in Ontario, it would reveal that it is occurring in very small numbers, Jha said.

Using the study’s findings, Jha calculated that there were about 245 “missing girls” for Indian-born mothers with at least two prior children — that’s less than one per cent of the 31,963 babies born to Indian women between 2002 and 2007.

“Important but subtle biases, such as higher migration of women who are about to give birth to a son might well explain this finding and suggest that selective abortion is not the explanation,” Jha said.

The implications of this finding are multiple--Jonathan Kay, writing in the National Post, may be right to expect an impact on Canadian regulation of abortion, for instance. The effects of sustained sex selection on the immigrant communities in question, if it is ongoing, will also be serious: among other things, if young men born into these ethnic communities lack partners in Canada, then either exogamy or the immigration of women from their countries of origin will become more appealing possibilities than celibacy. The impacts of sex-selection abortion on immigration, further, may make immigration unpopular; if immigrants could be framed as viscerally misogynistic, exclusionism could become popular.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Three demographics-themed links in the blogosphere

I thought I'd share with our readers three interesting links from the blogosphere.

1. Burgh Diaspora's Jim Russell believes that the close links between Brazil and Boston--driven by migration, at first strictly economic but then driven by interest in Massachusetts' institutes of education as Brazil tries to improve its workforce's skill levels--could serve Boston quite well relative to other American cities.

Demography Matters has touched on Brazil before, both as a source of immigrants and as a destination. Back in 2009, I'd even linked to an article on Brazilian migration to New England (building substantially on the links of other Lusophone immigrant-sending countries, including Portugal and Cape Verde, to the region) that made the point that, as the American economy declined and the Brazilian economy grew, migration was starting to become circular; Brazilians weren't moving to the United States to look for a new life abroad, but rather to accumulate capital that could be taken back to the homeland. As a commentor notes at Burgh Diaspora, will the increased volume of temporary migration from Brazil to New England result in strong linkages between the longest-settled region of the United States and one of the rising BRICs? If Brazilians assimilate quickly and/or maintain few links with Boston and New England, that's open to question.

2. Geocurrents' Asya Pereltsvaig deflates the myth that Chinese men (lacking spouses owing to a male-biased sex ratio at birth) will flood into Russia (especially Siberia) looking for Russian women (lacking spouses owing to a high male death rate). Among other things, there actually isn't much of a shortage of theoretically marriageable men in a Siberia that has traditionally had more balanced sex ratios than European Russia going back at least a century.

Neither Russia’s female bias nor the higher sex ratio in Siberia than in the European Russia are new. A preponderance of women has been observed since the first modern census of 1897, when Russian Empire had the average of 94.52 males per 100 females. [. . . T]he female bias has been observed in all population groups in all censuses except for the urban population in 1897. The much higher urban sex ratio at the time, 112.99 males per 100 females, stemmed from the fast-paced urbanization and industrialization of the country, with more men than women moving from villages into cities and joining the factory-working proletariat. During the early Soviet period, the female bias grew and the sex ratio went down to 90.25 in 1926 and 89.21 in 1939, as Stalin-era collectivization and purges impacted men much more than women. The peak in the female bias is evident in the first post-World War II census of 1959: the sex ratio had plummeted to just 80.45 males per 100 females, lower than in any Russian region today. Although the female bias has since gone down, it has not yet attained the prewar level.

According to Elizabeth Brainerd of the Economics Department of Williams College, the peak in the female bias in 1959 is due to the devastating Soviet population losses during World War II, currently estimated at 27 million or nearly 14% of the prewar population. These losses, Brainerd shows, disproportionately affected young men, significantly influencing marriages, fertility, and health among both men and women in the postwar period. Crucially, however, wartime demographic decline affected the European part of Russia much more than Siberia. A large part of the western Russia (as well as Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic states) was under Nazi occupation (see map on the left). While many women and children were evacuated from the occupied zone, most men either stayed behind or were shipped to the front. The military units stationed in the European part of the Soviet Union took a huge hit during the early months of the war. Massive disorganization led to extraordinarily high casualty figures, with the survivors either fleeing to the east or becoming prisoners of war, an experience that few survived. Siberian military units – which included 400,000 men, 5,000 guns, more than 3,000 tanks – were shifted to the Soviet Union’s Western front only in the late fall of 1941, after Stalin became assured that the Japanese would not attack the Russian Far East. These Siberian units were instrumental in the Red Army’s first counteroffensive at the gates of Moscow and later in turning the tide of war in the streets of Stalingrad. Trained as children to hunt and shoot, Siberians were a force to be reckoned with. “The Siberian… is tougher and stronger and possesses considerably more capacity to resist than his European countrymen,” the Chief of Staff of Germany’s Fourth Army reported ruefully at the time of their retreated from Moscow (quoted in W. Bruce Lincoln’s The Conquest of a Continent. Siberia and the Russians, p. 362). More importantly, Siberian units received better direction from the top of the Soviet military command, which resulted in lower – if still enormous – casualties.

Overall, a higher proportion of Siberian men survived the war than those of European Russia. The factories that were relocated to the Urals and beyond during the war, as well as the growing exploration and exploitation of natural resources in the post-war period, attracted even more men to the east. As a result “marriages” (legal or otherwise) between ‘white’ men and indigenous women became common. This higher wartime survival rate of men in Siberia, along with the post-war influx of men into the region, also had a positive effect on the second-generation (and perhaps beyond). As Brainerd shows, boys born to women in areas of higher sex ratios (Siberia) attain better health and nutritional status than boys born to women in areas of lower sex ratios (European Russia). This interesting finding suggests that sex ratios are to a degree a self-perpetuating phenomenon: having a higher sex ratio in a given area (community, or age cohort) at a given time promotes a higher sex ratio in the same place in the next generation as well, and similarly having a lower sex ratio results a vicious circle, which may be difficult to break.

(I've earlier mentioned here that the balance of migration between Russia and China is increasingly balanced, as China booms, Chinese migrants become more picky, and Russians start to be attracted to their prosperous southern neighbour).

3. Naked Anthropologist Laura Agustín takes issue with a recent New York Times article on the sex trade in Spain. Sensationalized coverage of the sex trade, and of abusive practice associated with it especially insofar as migrant workers and their experiences are concerned, isn't a substitute for good analysis.

I wonder if future historians will track how misinformation about migration and sex work was so willfully reproduced during the present period, how news publications with a reputation for actual investigation began to copy chunks of pseudo news and paste them together, were satisfied to quote only society’s most predictable, official and reductionist sources and failed to admit that the police force of any country is not the place to find out about complex social problems.

Any authentic interest in the topic at hand could not be titled In Spain, Women Enslaved by a Boom in Brothel Tourism – a cartoon-like story full of the most superficial sensationalist cliches, mostly derived from police sources and a few abolitionist advocates. Yet this is the story The New York Times published on its front page the other day, complete with a ludicrous photo of a young woman in high red boots worthy of the cheapest rag. As the story claimed to be about brothels (indoor venues), why did they illustrate the story with a picture of street prostitution – again, on the front page? I know of no serious research that talks about brothel tourism, by the way. On the other hand, men who live in places where no venues are available have always been known to cross borders or travel distances to get to them. There is no news about that.

The issue is failure to investigate and report dysfunctional migration policy and how growing economic inequalities promote the taking of unregulated, unprotected jobs in in underground economies, including in the sex industry.

Go, read.