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The bad effects of too few women

September 7, 2007

When there is a shortage of women like in China, South Korea and India, one thing leaps out at you. Women don’t benefit inspite of being scarce. The reason is simple. There is a shortage of women in that region precisely because women are undervalued and therefore aborted in large numbers. Their shortage just makes the situation worse. The effects of the shortage of women depends on the existing status of women in the society.

Overall this is what happens:

1) Trafficking and kidnapping of girls and women increases dramatically.

2) Cases of rape and molestation go up.

3) Women and girls from regions where the sex ratio is normal (and where the status of women is higher) are ‘imported’ as brides and often live unhappy lives as they find it hard to adjust to a male dominated, restrictive atmosphere. And these are the luckier women! In many cases the women are treated like slave labour. However, there are cases of happy unions too, but its the women who have to adjust.
While in India brides are being imported from other regions (southern and eastern India, where the sex ratio is normal), in countries like China (shortage of women is a problem all over China because of the one-child policy and the preference for boys. There are 120 boys for 100 girls) they are being imported from countries like Burma. In South Korea, another country where women are in short supply, men in search of brides often go to Vietnam. Countries like Cuba and Venezuela are also suffering from the disease of gender selective abortions.

4) In India there are reports of wives are abandoned or passed on to someone else as they come from different cultural background. This happens either because they cannot adjust, cannot give birth to sons or are simply disliked.

5) Cases of polygamy (without the woman’s consent) increase.

6) Suicide rates of young women go up.

7) Fewer women go out to work.

8. Very young girls are pushed into marriage…there is an increase in child marriages. This leads to less women being educated and health problems as children are born to very young girls. This is a big problem for India, because the country was already struggling to get rid of the age-old practice of child marriages, which ironically are most common in the regions where women are in short supply today.

9) There is a bad effect on men…but mostly the poorer men. They are the ones who have to often do without wives. Unfortunately if they are unemployed they may never get wives…and that is one of the reasons why crime against women increases. Interestingly, in a situation where there is an excess of women, it’s the poor and not very good-looking women who find it difficult to get husbands.

10) One good effect is that the imported brides usually come from poor families and the evil of dowry (where brides’ families have to shell out a lot of money to purchase a groom – endemic in certain parts of India) is done away with. In China where the system of dowry has never been as hard on the bride’s family as it is in India, it’s the brides who are being purchased.

11. Crime rates go up as it is young males who commit the maximum crimes. In fact the only crime that women commit as often as men is when it comes to filicide, that of murder of children by parents.

The map below is from the wiki and tells us about the sex ratios of the world. Blue represents more women, red more men than the world average of 1.01 males/female.

(The photo of the girl is by me)

Related Reading: Sex selection is big bucks in India
Daughter-in-laws are not supposed to have any feelings
The devaluation of cooking
How women are portrayed in the Indian media
Wife battering happens for trivial reasons
India’s sex ratio
Some reasons for the preference for male children
‘Reputed’ doctor involved in sex-determination rackets

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42 Comments leave one →
  1. September 7, 2007 10:22 am

    My goodness what a horrific situation. I knew about the shortage but I never contemplated the consequences of that in a society. How sad!

    Has abortion rate gone down, now that society has seen the awful results of its shameful act?

  2. September 7, 2007 10:34 am

    Frieda, nothing seems to be working, inspite of laws to prevent sex selection. Also, the evil of dowry (strict laws are in place and people are punished but it goes on) where boys are sold to the highest bidder, makes daughters an expensive proposition. The dowry menace in India continues. No, there is no sense of shame amongst those who abort girls because they feel they cannot 1) afford dowry and they need 2) a son to look after them in their old age.
    Actually I too wonder many times why so many boys in India don’t mind being bought. Or how their pride allows them to make the girl’s family pay for the wedding. Frankly I would hate it if I was bought by anyone and it would pinch my pride if a boy has to spend everything on the wedding. Yes, I would be terribly ashamed and in the first case probably kill myself!!

  3. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    September 7, 2007 11:54 am

    It is indeed paradoxical that a shortage of women should encourage polygamy. It should actually lead to polyandry; especially in places like India where there exist at least the cultural seeds of social sanction for polyandry, vide the example of Draupadi in the Mahabharata.

    I was not aware of Cuba and Venezuela facing the same problem. It would be interesting to know why. I have not come across any literature suggesting a preference for male offspring in those societies. Can you suggest some readings?

    China’s case is particularly educative. As you suggest, apart from a traditional preference for male offspring, the single-child norm imposed by the state is said to have further skewed the child sex ratio. I have not come across any reliable statistics on this. It is also said that the enforcement of the rule, at its peak, was stronger in large urban areas than in rural areas. In any case, the real seriousness of the demographic impact of the problem is only beginning to be felt now.

    That China imports brides from Burma places them in the same category as Arabs importing them from Pakistan and India.

    It is also interesting that the imbalance in sex ratios (owing to wilful neglect or elimination of the girl child) cuts across societies that have adopted very diverse political ideologies. China and Cuba are communist; South Korea is an industrialised capitalist economy; Venezuela, I don’t quite know where to fit in. Also surprising is the absence of North Korea from your list. Despite having a very different political system than the South, it has basically the same cultural traditions.

  4. September 7, 2007 12:22 pm

    Vivek, polygamy as a word can apply to both men and women, in the sense that it means multiple spouses. Polyandry only means multiple husbands, so either word would be okay to use.
    Also, it would be indeed be interesting to study the reasons as to why this problem exists in other cultures. I am sure that as time goes on, researchers will study these problems more deeply.
    About north korea, I think the right figures may not be available. I read in one article that even pakistan has a problem but it was not showing on the map, so I did not mention it. I guess these figures are taken at different points in time. For example about 20 years ago no one knew how bad it was in India, the world was talking about china only. its in the last decade or so that the problem has become acute in india. the wiki site has given sex ratios of different ages and that can give us an idea as to how the situation has worsened or improved.

  5. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    September 7, 2007 12:33 pm


    Re. “polygamy”, point taken; but the context suggested the more restrictive meaning.

    {{ … about 20 years ago no one knew how bad it was in India, the world was talking about china only. its in the last decade or so that the problem has become acute in india.}}

    This is not true. The problem in India has been KNOWN TO BE acute since at least the mid-20th c., and academics — sociologists, anthropologists, demographers — both Indian and foreign, have extensively applied their minds to it. As a matter of fact, it is China’s case that started engaging serious attention in the last 20 years.

  6. September 7, 2007 12:40 pm

    You may be right Vivek, this was just the impression I got from reading on the web. Perhaps more has been written about China rather than on India (on the web, and articles which are older) because China was always generally higher up on the world radar. The articles on India seem to be more fresh.

  7. September 7, 2007 4:01 pm

    Vivek, I decided to do some more homework on when the trend started in India, to kill its baby girls. From this site I found out that (quoting from the site):

    Between 1921 and 1971 the sex ratio grew from 1,029 to 1,075 males per thousand females. In contrast, over the same period, most other countries in the world were experiencing a trend in the sex ratio that favored females. The 1981 census presented the first downward signs for the sex ratio in India, with an estimated 1,068 males per thousand females. In the 1991 census, however, the estimate was 1,079, suggesting that the sex ratio again has increased in favor of males to a level beyond that reached in 1971. To some extent, these fluctuations are likely to indicate problems in the consistency of data collection between censuses as well as differences in female underenumeration from one census to the next (Dyson 1987).
    The more recent rise in the sex ratio has reintroduced fears about differences in mortality between the sexes, which previously had been allayed by the apparent drop in the ratio in 1981. Several authors have expressed this continuing disparity between males and females in terms of total missing females. In a highly populated country, the results of such calculations can give impressive estimates of females who are missing. For example, Coale (1991) calculates that an estimated 22.8 million females are missing in India; Sen’s (1989) estimate is almost double this figure.”

    China’s sex ratio must have started to change in 1980, when the one-child policy was introduced.

    • Guest permalink
      December 7, 2010 9:27 pm

      The truth is, most countries, even in the United States and Canada, favor males over females, not just China and India because most of these societies expect males to have higher status than females and that males are better protectors of the family and that they carry on the family name. In some cases, it’s due to religion as well. Most religions want more male religious leaders. And the typical ratio is usually 105-107 males for 98-100 females so there is typically more males than there are females in the world, which means eligible females are typically going to be scarce, which leaves men complaining, “I can’t find a good woman anymore!”. Duh, most of them are gone. But then, most males can survive better than females when they are single, due to the fact that they are physically and mentally stronger and can protect themselves a lot better, whereas females cannot. Also, it’s not only status that prevents males from finding a female partner but also looks prevent males as well since females always go for that too.

      • July 27, 2015 10:38 am

        “But then, most males can survive better than females when they are single, due to the fact that they are physically and mentally stronger and can protect themselves a lot better, whereas females cannot.”

        Nonsense. Men are mentally weak, they die soon if they are widowed,because they are not able to form lasting friendships. They also commit suicide way more often than women.

        Men may be physically stronger, but the main reason why they can protect themselves better is that they don’t need to – all the world is a patriarchy, and men aren’t usually attacked by rapists. (And they DO kill each other if there are too many men. Look up the figures. Men live way longer if they are born in a year where few males were born)

  8. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    September 7, 2007 4:31 pm

    Thanks, Nita, for this very valuable link. It helps me get a comprehensive picture of the sporadic readings I have been doing since 1974, based on data and developments since 1951.

    Pravin Visaria was one of the earliest (if not THE earliest) demographers to study the shift of India’s sex ratio in favour of males since the mid-20th century. Ashis Bose, in whose book the Visaria article of 1967 is published, has also written on the subject, and into more recent times as Visaria passed away sometime in the 90s. Tim Dyson, if I recall correctly, used data only up to 1971. Between Coale and Sen I am more inclined to go with the latter, but not having read Coale’s substantive arguments, that is probably an unfair stance for me to take.

    Regarding China’s change in SR, it is possible that the one-child policy accelerated a trend that already existed. Such trends take time to show up conclusively in census figures, and although the Chinese were among the earliest census takers in the world in ancient times, their record in modern times had been nowhere near as good as that of India.

  9. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    September 7, 2007 4:52 pm


    I got carried away by your data search and forgot to comment on your opening line, ” … when the trend started in India, to kill its baby girls.”

    I hope you are not suggesting that the trend is as recent as the decline in SR showing up in some census taken in the 20th c. It is a long established practice in some communities in NW India, dictated by a traditional preference for a male child. It spread to other communities as the practice of demanding progressively larger dowries became more widespread, which is a relatively recent phenomenon (I mean the spread and the amounts demanded, not the fact of dowry). Today, with seemingly greater cash flow (which does not necessarily mean more wealthy individual families) in society, the situation has gone out of hand, compounded by dowry, like cospicuous consumption, being equated with social status.

    The most tragic thing is that many communities, traditionally close to the lower end of the caste spectrum, which practised bride-price, have switched over to dowry. It is one of the markers of “upward social mobility” in the caste hierarchy. A perversion of M.N. Srinivas’s “Sanskritisation” thesis.

    I am sure all these factors have played a role in the increasing rates of female foeticide and infanticide; but I can assure you that the practice itself far predates the appearance of its evidence in population statistics.

  10. September 7, 2007 7:40 pm

    nita – As I read this, I must confess that the very first thing that occured to me is that this looks a bit far fetched i.e. too many problems are being explained away. I have a hard time believing that so many problems against women are rooted in the male to female ratio.

    But I definitely don’t know if my gut feeling has any validity. However, something caught my eye – the wiki map shows many countries in Africa in shades of blue. So the question is are all these problems less in those countries? If not, cant one argue that your theory of root cause is not really the root cause of these problems?

  11. September 7, 2007 8:16 pm

    Arunk, these are not my theories. This is what I have collected from data available on the internet, and frankly I picked one of say 5 reports which generally say the same thing. I definitely believe the research though.
    Ofcourse all these problems are not due to high male to female ratio. Please point out where it is written that the sex ratio is the sole reason for the above problems or that it is the root cause.
    About Africa, there is usually little research available in these countries. I don’t know if you have ever lived in Africa, but I have. Not just in my childhood, but also adulthood. Very few african countries have the way of doing research that even India has and researchers in developed countries are not even satisfied with the kind of research done in India. So no one is sure what is happening in Africa for sure.
    Its a pity that you feel this problems are far-fetched though. Nothing seems far-fetched to me…its the cold hard reality. But I can understand why you are disturbed by the data. It is indeed very disturbing.

    Vivek, yes I got your point! you are right.

  12. September 7, 2007 8:23 pm

    nita – then I misunderstood the article – sorry.

    My question about Africa is based on the AIDS epidemic (e.g. South Africa, and I think Kenya top) there which affects a lot more women than men from a couple of programs I saw.

    BTW, I was NOT saying the problems are far-fetched. That implying they become worse if there is shortage of women – that was what I thought was far-fetched. I would think the status of women in that country has a huge role to play (and yes in some cases that can lead to shortage – but not always)

  13. September 7, 2007 8:47 pm

    At the start of the post I have said:
    //The effects of the shortage of women depends on the existing status of women in the society.//
    So I think this should clear your doubts.
    and ofcourse the shortage of women is not always due to infanticide and foeticide. But any marked differences always is. That is what I meant. If have said that the shortage of women is influenced or due to the low status, I meant a marked difference, yes.
    About more women being killed by AIDS than men in Africa, I am not aware of this. Perhaps it is correct…but the ratio of most african countries seems to be alright as compared to India and China. The white regions are where the data is not available.
    Again, let me say that these are certainly not my theories. If you follow the links given you will see that the suggestion come from academic and authentic sources. And if you search the web, you will find more such articles, saying the same thing.
    But its a good thing you wrote down your doubts. It definitely made me think more deeply about the issue!

  14. September 7, 2007 9:08 pm

    Agreed. I wasn’t paying enough attention 🙂

    I got thrown off by the earlier statement “Shortage makes the situation worse” leading to certain points – specifically 1, 2, 5 and 6. So I had doubts that the increases mentioned in these problems happen because there is shortage of women? And whether societies that don’t have a favorable female-to-male ratio do not see increases etc.

    I obviously was not sure about these – which is why I asked (not asserted) about Africa. BTW, my doubts about Africa was based on TV and radio programs on the AIDS epidemic which specifically implied that more women were affected precisely because they were powerless. If a man afflicted with AIDS wanted to have sex (not necessarily forced although that happens a lot too), the women in many of these societies were powerless against it. They were powerless to ask to them to use safe methods.

    Anyway – doesn’t matter. I think I was confused about the import of the article. Sorry again.

  15. September 7, 2007 9:14 pm

    Arunk, hey, you don’t have to opologize! Anyone can read through a post hurriedly. In fact I am thankful to you for coming here, actually reading it and taking the trouble to comment! Much appreciated!

  16. September 7, 2007 9:21 pm

    well again its cause of the laws…now how are we going to reframe them???

  17. maliha11 permalink
    September 7, 2007 9:32 pm

    this is so, shameful that we still are treated like a disease in our region and side of the world. the world has gone so far in technology and has modernized but yet women are treated and used like goats, and in China its really the government that have made the people become so small and narrow minded china you can only have one child!!! thats sad but still they should be so harsh and brutal.
    I wrote a blog a three weeks about Chinese unwanted girls. check it out if you want.
    about India, Pakistan,Bangladesh, and Srilanka have this stupid tradition of dowry and thats brings the importance of girls so low and make us a burden on them 😦 I hate the fact that I can’t do anything about it.

  18. September 7, 2007 10:02 pm

    Vishesh, I think enforcement is more of a problem! Also, the societal change has to come from within the community. I feel if boys stood up to their parents and refused to take dowry, it would help a lot.

    Maliha, when you send in a comment, do write your blog url in the space provided, because without it, it is impossible for me to find your blog.
    I didn’t know that there was a problem of dowry in Pakistan though. What is the sex ratio there…if you have written about it, I would love to read about it.

  19. September 8, 2007 1:12 am

    Thanks for your posts. I find it interesting that denial seems to be the prevalent emotion. Many cultures, even in the West, prefer boy children. The shortage of girls is not a new issue and should not be a surprise to anyone. When you consider that artificially lowering the number of girls will also lower the number of ‘acceptable’ marriage partners in a society, that will lead to enormous problems in patriarchal cultures.

    Thank again and I wish I had some ideas, but this is not an issue than can be solved by talking.

  20. September 8, 2007 4:50 am

    This is distressing.

  21. September 8, 2007 7:27 am

    Brian, yes I am aware that even in the west there is a preference for boys, but the fact is that they don’t go ahead and abort their girl babies.
    And yes, this is a very serious issue and I am sure that sociogists and governments are doing their best to stop this. But more than anything, I believe that the changes have to come from deep within society, from the people.

  22. September 8, 2007 7:30 pm

    Over the last few weeks I’ve been really involved with organizing a movement against female foeticide in Dehra Dun. I wonder if you are aware that over 2000 female foeticides are carried out in India every SINGLE DAY!
    Anyway, you have a good write up here.

  23. September 8, 2007 8:50 pm

    Dr. Pandey, this is indeed shocking news!! 2000 a day!
    If you come to this site again, I would be interested in knowing exactly what your movement is doing, how they are tackling the situation.
    Thanks for coming here.

  24. Anonymous permalink
    September 9, 2007 7:21 am

    It is a sad commentary on the society we live in. Though we say that women are respected and revered, quite the opposite is happening. It is not just among the poor and the illiterate. The so called educated people have an equal hand in causing not just the shortage, but the poor quality of life for women.

  25. September 9, 2007 8:50 pm

    Very, very good post and summary. The Wiki map is particularly enlightening.

    11) Not just crimes against women, but many sociologists believe that it contributes to an overall increase in the crime in society, because of the increased number of angry young men.

  26. September 9, 2007 9:00 pm

    Mahendra, yes, that makes sense. Finding a life partner and having a fulfilling relationship is very crucial to a happy life.

  27. December 13, 2007 10:33 pm

    A customer who came to my internet cafe visited this page. He joked that two men should share a woman if female population would be too less. Some times, it may not be joke. Some non-married guys patronise prostitutes if they are unable to find life parter because of decline of female ratio.

    • Guest permalink
      April 5, 2011 4:31 am

      Of course, it’s all over the world and in North America, especially the USA, because there’s more men than there are women and less women than there are men. Men are expected to fight hard with other men for a mate while women are not and that women are a prize to be put on a pedestal. Just in case you didn’t notice, more infant males are being born while most infant females are being killed and unborn.

  28. Guest permalink
    January 1, 2011 11:48 pm

    Well, when it comes to relationships, the traditional role of the male is to court the female, not the other way around, which is why most societies prefer that there be more males than females, especially in Catholic/Christian societies, despite feminism. Also the Wiki map isn’t true. There’s another current map showing that there are more males than females in the world.

  29. Unknown permalink
    January 4, 2011 2:30 am

    Also, there’s more men than women in Pakistan, Latin America, and other traditional or third world countries like the Philippines, for example.

  30. Guest permalink
    March 9, 2011 1:15 am

    Same thing in Russia and other Eastern Bloc countries, there’s more men than there are women from what I learned.

  31. October 5, 2011 12:33 am

    Killing off females is just a way to control their sexuality and desires which leads to more men than women in the world. After all, men are supposed to compete with other men for for one woman, not the other way around. Men are the ones to complain that there are no eligible women out there.

  32. Anonymous permalink
    October 23, 2011 11:11 pm

    Population control

  33. December 28, 2011 10:53 am

    Congratulations 🙂 This post in one of the winners of ‘Tejaswee Rao Blogging Awards – 2011’ (TRBA 2011). We would like to create an ebook with all the winning entries in 47 categories on Feminism and Gender Issues in India (and one category on Animals Rights). Please do let us know if you are fine with your winning post/s being included in this ebook. ( Please click here to let us know).

  34. July 27, 2015 10:46 am

    Even in Germany, where there are about 106 boys for 100 girls born, the negative effects of superfluous males are felt. Especially in the east of Germany, where the young women leave for better employment opportunitites, young men are increasingly violent and vote for extremist parties.

    In India, the effects must be horrible by now, and presumably getting worse.


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