Why we’re going to have a lot of lonely old men in India in 2071

Posted on June 9, 2011

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We’re going to have an awful lot of lonely old men in India in 60 years time.

Admittedly, the same is likely in China – most of South and East Asia, actually – but it’s exacerbated in the two biggest economies because with the emergence of new monied classes in an old-fashioned patrilineal society (that is, one where it’s seen as more ideal to have sons, rather than daughters) we’re seeing an overwhelming number of people choosing to abort female foetuses.

According to Mara Hvistendahl, who has written a book called ‘Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men’ (she doesn’t get any prizes for a snappy title, at least from me, but her thinking and actual writing seems to be sound), we’ve already seen 160 million would-be women disappear from the world in the past few decades. They’re women that previously would’ve been born and raised in countries, but thanks to medical advancements that allow couples to see the sex of their child, they’ve been terminated before a full pregnancy.

That’s quite a shocking number, and it’s quite a shocking idea. There have been numerous debates around the validity of allowing screenings during pregnancy for congenital and debilitative illnesses, but we’ve skirted around the sex issue – to the point that it’s basically too late.

As I said, we’re going to have an awful lot of lonely old men in India in 60 years time.

As the concept of a middle class has emerged in countries like India and China (the argument is automatically less strong in China because of its strict one-child policy) we’ve seen new money take advantage of the options open to them medically. It’s hugely immoral and ethically wrong, but given societal norms it almost makes sense that a nouveau riche family wouldn’t want to have a daughter. If they did, they’d have to marry her off to (possibly) a less rich husband, who would then be entitled to dowry money and the benefits of being married into a richer family. In a society where the sexual pay gap is still strong, they’d also see their daughter earn significantly less than a prospective son would, and that daughter would be much less likely to go into a professional industry, or even to a high-ranking university or school (and it’s here that the ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ concept of status must be remembered).

We’re not only likely to have lonely old men in India and other nations that nowadays have sex ratios near two boys for every girl. The imbalance between the sexes means that there are going to be an awful lot of sexually frustrated men, to be crude. Hvidenstahl, in an interview to promote her book with the Boston Globe, says that “there’s evidence that crime rates, and particularly sex crimes, have increased in northwest India and eastern China, places where the birth ratios are way off. History is an imperfect guide, but if you look at societies where men significantly outnumbered women, they tended to have a lot of serious problems. And it’s certainly true there will be a lot of men who have trouble finding women.”

Overall, it’s a lose-lose situation when you allow sex choice to rule nature. The potential increase in vulnerability for the fewer women who are out there, coupled with the tremendous sense of loneliness and depression that these men will eventually feel, doesn’t bode well for the future.

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