Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize
Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize
A Wall Street Journal Best Book of 2011
A Slate Best Book of 2011
A Discover Magazine Best Book of 2011
Lianyungang, a booming port city, has China's most extreme gender ratio for children under four: 163 boys for every 100 girls. These numbers don't seem terribly grim, but in ten years, the skewed sex ratio will pose a colossal challenge. By the time those children reach adulthood, their generation will have twenty-four million more men than women.
The prognosis for China's neighbors is no less bleak: Asia now has 163 million females "missing" from its population. Gender imbalance reaches far beyond Asia, affecting Georgia, Eastern Europe, and cities in the U.S. where there are significant immigrant populations. The world, therefore, is becoming increasingly male, and this mismatch is likely to create profound social upheaval.
Historically, eras in which there have been an excess of men have produced periods of violent conflict and instability. Mara Hvistendahl has written a stunning, impeccably-researched book that does not flinch from examining not only the consequences of the misbegotten policies of sex selection but Western complicity with them.
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In 2007, the booming port city of Lianyungang achieved the dubious distinction of having the most extreme gender ratio for children under five in China: 163 boys for every 100 girls. The numbers may not matter much to the preschool set. But in twenty years the skewed sex ratio will pose a colossal challenge. When Lianyungang's children reach adulthood, their generation will have twenty-four million more men than women.
The prognosis for China's neighbors is no less bleak: rampant sex selective abortion has left over 160 million females "missing" from Asia's population. And gender imbalance reaches far beyond South and East Asia, affecting the Caucasus countries, Eastern Europe, and even some groups in the United States -- a rate of diffusion so rapid that the leading expert on the topic compares it to an epidemic. As economic development spurs parents in developing countries to have fewer children and brings them access to sex determination technology, couples are making sure at least one of their children is a son. So many parents now select for boys that they have skewed the sex ratio at birth of the entire world.
Sex selection did not arise on its own. Largely unknown until now is that the sex ratio imbalance is partly the work of a group of 1960s American activists and scientists who zealously backed the use of prenatal technologies in their haste to solve an earlier global problem.
What does this mean for our future? The sex ratio imbalance has already led to a spike in sex trafficking and bride buying across Asia, and it may be linked to a recent rise in crime there as well. More far-reaching problems could be on the horizon: From ancient Rome to the American Wild West, historical excesses of men have yielded periods of violence and instability. Traveling to nine countries, Mara Hvistendahl has produced a stunning, impeccably researched book that examines not only the consequences of the misbegotten policies underlying sex selection but also the West's role in creating them.
Unnatural Selection is an important book and a fascinating read. Mara Hvistendahl is a delightful writer: witty, engaging, and acute. But the tale she tells is deeply disturbing. Asia alone is missing 160 million women and girls, a number equal to the entire female population of the United States. According to Hvistendahl, the culprit is less deeply rooted cultural gender bias than rising wealth, elite attitudes, and Western influence and technology. Development, at least for the coming decades, will produce not only fewer children overall, but also many fewer girls. The result is a future for many parts of the world, from India to China, Azerbaijan to Albania, where brides are much more likely to be bought, women are much more likely to be trafficked, and men are much more likely to be frustrated. For the present, we must confront the stark reality that the availability of ultrasound and ready abortion are sharply reducing the number of women in the world.
--Anne-Marie Slaughter, professor of politics and international affairs, Princeton
A fascinating and thoroughly researched book on a most important subject. The staggering population imbalances described by Hvistendahl should be of concern to all.
--Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide
Yes, it's a rigorous exploration of the world's 'missing women,' but it's more than that, too: an extraordinarily vivid look at the implications of the problem. Hvistendahl writes beautifully, with an eye for detail but also the big picture. She has a fierce intelligence but, more important, a fierce intellectual independence; she writes with a hard edge but no venom--rather, a cool and hard passion.
--Stephen J. Dubner, coauthor of Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics
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