Sex-selective abortion is comparatively rare in this country, but in China and India it is having a profound impact that could one day shake the world.

An eye-opening report in the Economist lays out the facts:

“Sex-selective abortions became common in China in the 1990s as a result of the country’s strict (now somewhat laxer) one-child-per-couple policy and a traditional preference for sons. A few years later they became increasingly common in India, also because of a preference for sons and helped by the growing availability of prenatal tests to determine sex. In 2010-15, according to the UN Population Division, China’s sex ratio at birth was 116 boys to 100 girls; in India the figure was 111…”

Somewhat euphemistically, the anonymous author says that there are now 66 million “absent” girls and women in China and 43 million in India.

This extreme gender imbalance has obvious implications for the marriage prospects of Chinese and Indian men. Indeed, there are a number of exacerbating factors that mean that the imbalance in the marriage ‘market’ is even worse than than in the maternity ward.

For instance, there’s the remorseless mathematical logic of the “queuing effect”:

“The length of a queue is determined by how many people join it, how many leave, and how long queuers are prepared to wait. In the same way, marriage numbers are a result of how many people reach marriageable age (the joiners); how many get married (the leavers) and how long people are willing to wait. In India and China, marriage remains the norm, so men keep trying to tie the knot for years.”

In other words, Chinese and Indian men aren’t just competing with others of their own age for marriage partners, but also with unmarried men in older age groups:

“Just as you need only a small imbalance between the number of people joining a queue and the number leaving it to produce a long, slow-moving line, so in marriage, a small difference in the adult sex ratio can produce huge numbers of bachelors.”

Demographic projections show the “backlog” reaching crisis proportions in decades to come:

“…in China, for every 100 single women expected to marry in 2050-54 there could be as many as 186 single men… in India in 2060-64 the peak could be higher: 191 men for each 100 women. This assumes the sex ratio at birth does not change. But even if the ratio were to return to normal in 2020 (which is unlikely), the marriage squeeze would still be severe, peaking at 160 in China in 2030, and at 164 in India 20 years later.”

Obviously this is bad news for the least marriageable men in these countries (especially the poorest and least educated), but it is also bad news for everyone else:

“…in every society, large numbers of young men, unmarried and away from their families, are associated with abnormal levels of crime and violence.”

Much of this crime centres on the sexual exploitation of girls and women – through prostitution, trafficking and ‘bride abduction’ (i.e. enslavement and rape).

Throughout history, governments have found that there’s a reliable way of both employing and reducing a surplus population of males – sending them off to war to kill one another. We must hope that China and India – as nuclear-armed states that share a disputed border – find a better way.