NEW YORK – According to the United Nations, there are far more men on the planet than women. The gender gap is especially pronounced in Asia. In this week’s Newsweek Niall Ferguson looks at the ominous rise of a bachelor generation.
In 1927, Ernest Hemingway published a collection of short stories titled Men Without Women. Today, less than a century later, it sums up the predicament of a rising proportion of mankind.
According to the United Nations, there are far more men than women on the planet. The gender gap is especially pronounced in Asia, where there are 100 million more guys than girls. This may come as a surprise to people in the Western world, where women outnumber men because—other things being equal—the mortality rate for women is lower than for men in all age groups. Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen calls it the mystery of Asia’s “missing women.”
The mystery is partly explicable in terms of economics. In many Asian societies, girls are less well looked after than boys because they are economically undervalued. The kind of domestic work they typically do is seen as less important than paid work done by men. And, of course, early marriage and minimal birth control together expose them to the risks of multiple pregnancies.
When Sen first added up the missing women—women who would exist today if it were not for selective abortion, infanticide, and economic discrimination—he put the number at 100 million. It is surely higher now. For, even as living standards in Asian countries have soared, the gender gap has widened. That’s because a cultural preference for sons over daughters leads to selective abortion of female fetuses, a practice made possible by ultrasound scanning, and engaged in despite legal prohibitions. The American feminist Mary Anne Warren called it “gendercide.” Notoriously common in northwestern India, it’s also rampant in the world’s most populous country: China.
In China today, according to American Enterprise Institute demographer Nicholas Eberstadt, there are about 123 male children for every 100 females up to the age of 4, a far higher imbalance than 50 years ago, when the figure was 106. In Jiangxi, Guangdong, Hainan, and Anhui provinces, baby boys outnumber baby girls by 30 percent or more. This means that by the time today’s Chinese newborns reach adulthood, there will be a chronic shortage of potential spouses. According to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, one in five young men will be brideless. Within the age group 20 to 39, there will be 22 million more men than women. Imagine 10 cities the size of Houston populated exclusively by young males.