Gender imbalance highest among India’s affluent: Harvard study

December 14th, 2008 - 5:40 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 14 (IANS) A baby girl is still unwanted in many Indian homes. What’s more, the sex ratio imbalance is highest among the rich and the educated, says a study by the Harvard School of Public Health in the US.In India, where families have traditionally preferred son, the male-female ratio increases with the level of education. The odds of having a boy compared to a girl is 25 percent higher in houses where the head of the family has completed schooling.

“We found that households where the head of the house has completed schooling had an increased ratio of having a male child compared to houses with heads receiving no formal education,” S.V. Subramanian, lead author of the study released last month, told IANS.

The male-female ratio also increases with income, the study found. Higher income groups are 14 percent more likely to prefer a boy to a girl while in the poorer sections the preference may be just four percent more.

“Urban areas also reported higher sex imbalance as the odds of having a boy are 11 percent higher in cities compared to seven percent in rural areas,” Subramanian said.

The researchers used a nationally representative, population-based sample of household survey data provided by the Indian National Sample Survey Organisation (INSSO) for five recent years: 2004/05, 1999/2000, 1993/94, 1987/88 and 1983. The INSSO survey covered the whole of the India except for a few inaccessible and difficult pockets.

It also reveals that the introduction of the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act 1994 (PNDT) to check misuse of technology in this field has failed to correct the imbalance in the sex ratio.

“The sex ratio clearly signifies that the PNDT Act failed to check sex imbalance as the odds of having a boy increased to 10 percent in the period following the implementation of the Act. The odds of having a boy were seven percent in the pre-PNDT period,” Subramanian said.

There are notable variations among states. Punjab continues to be the state where the odds of having a boy increased to 37 percent compared to a girl. Karnataka has the lowest percentage with the odds of having a boy one percent higher than a girl.

According to Subramanian, a positive association between socio-economic status and sex imbalance is paradoxical given that the affluent class has been consistently associated with improved health and other well-being outcomes.

“The combined effect of persistent and intense son preference, along with increasing affordability and accessibility to technologies for sex determination, however, makes the concentration of male infants among the rich somewhat counter-intuitive,” the study found.

A higher incidence of giving dowry to the bride in marriage and prevailing inheritance practices favouring sons, both more common among high-income groups, are key motivations for an intense preference for sons among them.

“Meanwhile, a son preference norm could simply be dormant among low income groups, as they do not possess sufficient resources to practise discrimination,” the study said.

“For instance, low-income households, with reduced access to technologies available for foetal sex detection, may be less able to participate in the activities of foetal sex detection followed by selective abortion.”

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