Does prenatal sex selection substitute postnatal excess female child mortality?

Ridhi Kashyap, University of Oxford and Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research

The increasing masculinization of sex ratios at birth (SRB) since the 1990s, widely noted across several countries in Asia, the Caucasus and the Balkans, indicates that parents have adopted sex-selective abortion to realize preferences for male offspring. Has prenatal sex selection improved survival prospects for girls who are born as they may be more wanted? This paper examines the relationship between prenatal sex selection and postnatal excess mortality for girls by analysing the dynamics of child sex ratios between 1980 and 2015 using country-level lifetable data. I decompose changes in child sex ratios into a ‘fertility’ component attributable to prenatal sex selection and ‘mortality’ component attributable to sex-differentials in postnatal survival to assess when and where the two components overlap and where they have substituted one another. The analysis reveals that by the mid-2000s changes in the fertility component, that is missing female births, had a greater impact on the dynamics of child sex ratios than those in the mortality component, that is excess female deaths for all countries experiencing SRB distortions. Although absolute numbers of excess female deaths had declined by the mid- to late-2000s in most contexts with excess female mortality, relative excess mortality nonetheless persisted in several. In countries with low levels of excess female mortality preceding the onset of prenatal sex selection, such as South Korea, Armenia and Azerbaijan, substitution from postnatal to prenatal was most clearly evident. In contrast, the South Asian contexts of Nepal, Pakistan and India, in the East Asian context of China, and in the Caucasus, notably Georgia and Albania, prenatal sex selection did not clearly substitute postnatal excess female mortality.

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Presented in Session 77: Gender, fertility and sex preferences