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Missing women—revisited

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 04 December 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:1297
  1. Sen Amartya, master of Trinity College
  1. Master's Lodge, Trinity College, Cambridge CB2 1TQ

    Reduction in female mortality has been counterbalanced by sex selective abortions

    The concept of “missing women,” which was presented in an editorial I wrote in this journal 11 years ago, refers to the terrible deficit of women in substantial parts of Asia and north Africa, which arises from sex bias in relative care.1 The numbers are very large indeed. For example, using as the standard for comparison the female:male ratio of 1.022 observed in sub—Saharan Africa (since women in that region receive less biased treatment), I found the number of missing women in China to be 44m, in India 37m, and so on, with a total that easily exceeded 100m worldwide,a decade or so ago. Others used different methods and got somewhat different numbers—but all very large (for example, Stephan Klasen's sophisticated demographic model yielded 89m for the countries in question).2

    How have things moved more recently? At one level they have not changed much. The ratio of women to men in the total population, while changing slowly (getting a little worse in China and a little better in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and west Asia), has not altered radically in any of these countries. Even though the total numbers of missing women have continued to grow (Klasen's 89m is now 93m for the same countries and 101m for the …

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