Guide on Gender Analysis of Census Data Full Draft of 6 December 2012 Contents


Chapter 5: Sex Ratio at Birth and throughout the Life Cycle



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Chapter 5:
Sex Ratio at Birth and throughout the Life Cycle


1. What is it?

151. The sex ratio at birth (SRB) is defined as the ratio of male to female births in a population,16 multiplied by 100. The census variables to be analysed to calculate de SRB are the date of birth and sex of the last live-born child. On this basis, one can compute the number of girls and boys born over the last 12 months.17 Although this ratio can vary somewhat due to biological factors, its natural value is normally not smaller than 104 and not larger than 106,18 although some would still accept 102 and 107 as normal. The recent inter-agency publication on preventing gender-based sex selection (OHCHR; UNFPA; UNICEF; UN Women and WHO, 2011) puts the normal range at 102-106, to take account of the very low sex ratios found in some African countries. Where observed sex ratios at birth are greater than 106 (or 107) in census data, this departure from the biological norm may be due either to under-reporting of female births, or to prenatal sex selection practices and feticide linked to son preference, or to a combination of the two. The opposite applies if sex ratios at birth are lower than 104 (or 102). If the difference is real, rather than due to differential under-enumeration, it is called sex ratio imbalance (at birth). Sex ratio imbalances arise in several countries that have strong sex preferences – usually for boys – and where prenatal sex screening and selective abortions have now led to significant distortions due to the elimination of female fetuses. This is commonly referred to as the problem of the missing girls (Das Gupta, 2005).


152. The current global average in the sex ratio at birth is about 107 per 100 (United Nations, 2011 b; UNICEF, 2011 b) but regional differences are significant. In Sub-Saharan Africa, sex ratios at birth are generally low (as low as 102 in Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and South Africa), with a regional average of 104. However, some countries in Africa, notably Nigeria and Ethiopia, stand out for having rather high sex ratios, in the order of 107 (Garenne, 2002, 2008 a). In Latin America and the Caribbean, Northern America and Oceania the average is 105, although low sex ratios, in the order of 103 are commonly found in the Caribbean. In Europe it is 106, while in South Asia it reaches 107 (and in Eastern Asia and the Pacific 113).
153. China is the country with the highest sex ratio at birth (118.7), estimated for the period 2005-10, with values of over 130 in some provinces. Tibet, however, has a very low sex ratio, of 102. In India, the sex ratio at birth was computed at 904 girls for every 1,000 boys (or, in more conventional terms, 111.6 boys per 100 girls) in 2006-08 (UNFPA India, 2010). Based on this information, UNFPA estimated the number of missing girls in India for the 2001-07 time period to be in excess of 6 million. The more commonly used child sex ratio was 976 girls per 1,000 boys (102.5 per 100) in 1961, but had changed to 927 (107.9 per 100, in conventional terms) in the 2001 census. According to the preliminary results of the 2011 census, there are now about 83.9 million boys under age 7, compared to roughly 75.8 million girls, implying a child sex ratio of 109.4 per 100, a deterioration with respect to the 2001 census (Jha et al., 2011).
154. Apart from India and China, where the imbalance has been known for a long time (in China, the sex ratio was more skewed in 1953 than in 2000), in recent years there have also been increases in the sex ratio in countries like the Republic of Korea (1980s), Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia (1990s), and most recently Viet Nam. So far the Republic of Korea is the only country where the sex ratio has returned to normal in the 1990s, after a period of imbalance (Guilmoto, 2009; Villa, 2006). Chung and Das Gupta (2007) argue that the trend is due to fundamental changes regarding social norms, but the most recent data for the country indicate another rise, to 109 in 2010.
Table 9: Sex Ratio – at birth, age-specific, and overall – by region

Regions

At birth

0-4 years

5-14 years

15-24 years

Sub-Saharan Africa

104

103

102

101

Middle East and North Africa

105

105

105

105

South Asia

107

108

108

108

South Asia excluding India

105

105

105

104

East Asia and Pacific

113

114

114

109

East Asia and the Pacific excluding China

105

105

105

104

Latin America and Caribbean

105

104

104

102

CEE/CIS

106

106

105

103

Developing countries

107

107

108

106

World

107

107

107

106

Source: United Nations (2011). World Population Prospects. The 2010 Revision, CD-ROM, cited in UNICEF (2011 b)
155. The child sex ratio is the ratio of boys compared to girls in the 0-6 year age group. It is often used as a proxy for the sex ratio at birth because it is easier to compute from census data, particularly if the census does not disaggregate births by sex. Defining a natural value for this ratio is more difficult than in the case of the sex ratio at birth because it is affected not only by the latter, but also by differential infant and child mortality. One would expect the number of boys over girls to decline gradually after birth, as a consequence of higher male mortality. Depending on the life expectancy at birth, the number of males and females should equalize among young or older adults, but then it should decline among the elderly as consequence of lower survival rates among old men.

156. The age-specific sex ratio is the sex ratio that characterizes specific age groups, including the 0-6 year age group of the child sex ratio. The overall sex ratio refers to all men in the population, divided by the number of women and multiplied by 100. This is the most difficult to interpret because it can be influenced by a wide range of phenomena, including migration.


157. Alternatively, the terms primary, secondary and tertiary sex ratios are sometimes used. The primary sex ratio is the ratio at the time of conception. The secondary sex ratio at time of birth and the tertiary sex ratio is the ratio among mature organisms.
2. Why is it important?
158. Looking at the sex ratio at different stages of the life cycle reveals how it is shaped by the different underlying demographic processes. The sex ratio in the total population depends on the sex ratio at birth, migration patterns and the conditions of mortality throughout the life-cycle. For instance, many countries in the Arab States have a significant foreign labour force, mostly composed of men. As a consequence, their sex ratio is very high, Qatar having the highest (303, estimated for 2010). In Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the male/female ratio is normal at birth, but declines sharply among 30-40-year olds. Such an imbalance skewed towards women may be symptomatic of armed conflict or, as is the case in the Baltics, alcoholism in males. As women live longer than men in most places, a sex ratio of roughly 90 for the age group 60 and over is not uncommon. As a consequence of large differences in male and female life expectancies (more than 10 years) and differential migration, countries like Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine also registered very low over-all sex ratios (below 90) in their 2010 censuses (UNECE, 2012 c).
159. Several South and East Asian countries, such as China, India and South Korea, have long struggled with the phenomenon of the missing women (Kynch and Sen, 1983; Sen, 1990; Yi et al., 1993). Using sex ratios in countries particularly affected by gender inequalities, Sen (1990) calculated that 107 million more women would be alive in the absence of excess female mortality concerning infant girls in particular. While the figure has been challenged and recalculated various times (mostly due to problems of undercounting, e.g. of unmarried women), it is clear that the number of missing women is substantial. Based on typical infant and child mortality patterns in the country, Jha et al. estimate that 4.53 million sex-selective abortions took place in the country between 2000 and 2010. In some states, the sex imbalance is much worse (e.g. 120.5 in Haryana, 118.2 in Punjab, 116.5 in Jammu and Kashmir, and 115.4 in the national capital of New Delhi). These are some of the richest states of the country, which shows that sex imbalances are not a consequence of poverty and ignorance, but – to the contrary – show up in places where people have access to the technology that makes it possible to implement sex selection choices.
160. A recent study from Nepal aptly identifies the core of the problem as “a deeply rooted preference for sons, which leads parents across cultures and geographic locations to decide against allowing a girl to live, even before her birth, and the increasing availability of technology that enables them to do so with ease” (UNFPA, 2007: 2). The most pronounced and well-known case is China (UNICEF 2011 b), where the “one child policy” in place since 1979 has discouraged fertility. Most observers agree that the one child policy exacerbates the problem, as it is consistently associated with higher ratios of male to female births (Zeng et al., 1993; Ebenstein, 2010), but it is not the only cause (for the classical model of causation, see Gu and Roy, 1995), More broadly, early detection of the sex of a foetus since the 1980s in many countries has led to increased numbers of sex-selective abortions.
161. The sex ratio in infancy is important to monitor because female infanticide and neglect of new-born girls through differential access to food, vaccination and care has resulted in higher mortality for girls. In this way, the sex ratio can inform policy by defining a problem and may also be used to monitor progress toward a solution (e.g. addressing sex imbalances in vaccination campaigns, free curative care for infants, etc.).
162. A statement recently issued by OHCHR, UNFPA, UNICEF, UN Women and the WHO (WHO, 2011) reviews the evidence behind the causes, consequences and lessons learned regarding “son preference,” and concludes: “Sex selection in favour of boys is a symptom of pervasive social, cultural, political and economic injustices against women”. On the other hand, it points out that it is also women who have to bear the consequences of giving birth to an unwanted girl child. These consequences can include violence, abandonment, divorce or even death. Son preference can, however, be embedded in wider societal norms and practices. For instance, in societies where the maintenance of elderly parents falls primarily on the sons, as married daughters come to belong to the family of their husbands, it is understandable that parents will want to guarantee a male heir, for the sake of their own sustenance in old age. This becomes particularly critical in low fertility contexts. The pressure on women to produce sons also puts women in a position where they in turn perpetuate the lower status of girls through son preference. As a consequence, various forms of gender-based violence and discrimination and heightened vulnerability of women and girls are associated with sex ratio at birth imbalances skewed towards boys (UNFPA, 2007, 2010b).
163. Where men of marriageable age are faced with a dramatic shortage of potential brides, human trafficking, crime and other adverse social consequences are on the rise (Guilmoto, 2007). As the country example highlights just below, men also are likely to suffer social consequences, such as depression, isolation and poverty, as illustrated by the example below. Part of the shortage of brides on the marriage market, which arises from the lack of young women at marriageable ages, may also lead to changes in the age difference at marriage between women and men. In the same way that polygamy often operates in a system where men are considerably older than women at the time of marriage, imbalances in the sex ratio - because of son preference - may lead to older men marrying younger women. Son preference also affects the stability of unions. Zeng et al. (2002) show for instance that divorce rates among women with three or more daughters without a son are 2.2 times higher than among women with three or more children with at least one son. CAREFUL NOT TO EXAGGERATE THE ATTENTION DEDICATED TO SON PREFERENCE.
Country Example 2: Generating Vulnerable Elderly Men in China
In 2000 the total number of excess boys and young men up to 20 years of age in China was almost 21 million. The lack of young women has negatively affected the formation of families. Poston and Glover (2005) estimate that more than 23 million young men born between 1980 and 2001 will not be able to find brides in China. If the overall growth of the population young population were positive, this imbalance might be solved by men marrying younger women, but this is not sustainable in a context of diminishing numbers of young people. As Judith Banister (2004) points out, sex ratio at birth imbalance was almost eliminated during the Mao years. That means birth cohorts born up until 1982 were normal, and women would come of marriageable age 23 years later on average (men 2-3 years later) – in 2005 onwards. So there has been no squeeze until recently – the ones marrying now were born in the late 1980s. Das Gupta (2010) argues that the abnormally high sex ratios that have characterized China since the 1980s will ultimately lead to a situation in which older men, who did not marry when they were younger, will have no children to support them, so that during the later years of their lives they will be particularly vulnerable to poverty and social isolation. Poston and Glover (2005) foresee the formation of “bachelor ghettos” in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Tianjin and other big cities in China, where commercial sex outlets will be prevalent. They also speculate about the possibility of criminality, as men who do not marry have a higher probability of turning to crime.


3. Data issues

KIM: AGE HEAPING, BUT IS IT SEX-SPECIFIC ?

164. While analysis of the sex ratio at birth is most reliable when based on data from efficient vital statistics, the census can provide an estimate if the number of children born during the last 12 months is differentiated by sex, which is usually the case. Both vital statistics and census data have the advantage of universal coverage which is important because establishing the difference between a sex ratio of - say - 108 and a normal ratio of 106 requires at least 33,000 cases in order to obtain statistically significant results, which is too much for most surveys. Even in the census of a small country such as Vanuatu, the reported high sex ratio at birth of 111 boys per 100 girls (Vanuatu, 2011) may be based on too few births (about 5,000 per year) to allow solid conclusions.


165. In those countries where the census does not differentiate the number of children born during the past 12 months by sex (Argentina, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Costa Rica, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Palau, Peru, the Seychelles and Thailand), an alternative is to use the child sex ratio (0-4 or 0-6 years) or the ratio of children under age 1 as proxies. The main methodological problems associated with this solution are:
a) Children under age 1 are typically poorly enumerated in censuses and under-enumeration or the misdeclaration of ages are sometimes more pronounced for one sex than for the other; and
b) By defining “at birth” sex ratios as sex ratios in children less than 1 year old, sex-selection effects are conflated with sex-specific mortality during the first year of life, in particular with infanticide and higher perinatal mortality among boys.
The latter will obviously grow more serious as wider age groups are used. In India, for example, the 2001 census found a sex ratio of 107.1 for the 0-4 age group, while the sex ratio at birth for 2000-02 was estimated to be 112.1 boys per 100 girls (Kulkarni, 2007). One can also estimate the sex ratio at birth by taking the sex of the youngest child in the household and verifying if its age is compatible with the declared date of birth. This analysis, however, is more complex and there may be difficulties in case where the child has died or no longer lives with the mother. If there are different mothers in the household, there may also be problems in identifying who a particular child belongs to.
166. Census reporting on children aged 0-6 is typically more reliable, but this age group is already more exposed to other causes of sex imbalance, such as differential mortality. For example, it was mentioned earlier that the child sex ratio in India increased from 107.9 to 109.4 per 100 between the 2001 and 2011 censuses. But data from the Indian Sample Registration System suggest that the sex ratio at birth actually improved somewhat, from 112.1 per 100 in 2000-02 to 111.6 per 100 in 2006-08. If these data are reliable and can be generalized to the country as a whole (which may not be the case, as they are based on a sample), the conclusion would have to be that infant and child mortality, rather than sex selection at birth, was the cause for the deterioration of the child sex ratio between 2001 and 2011. This could be verified using census data collected in 2011 on children born during the past 12 months by sex, however, this information has not yet been published.
167. Differential under-enumeration is another complicating factor. In many societies, such as Iran and Libya, under-enumeration of girls and women is known to be widespread in censuses. This may be due to the respondent (e.g. ‘forgetting’ about girls who do not have a birth certificate) or enumerator (e.g. taking greater care and time to write down all boys and men in the household). A recent study of China (Goodkind, 2011) indicates that about 19 per cent of children at ages 0-4 went unreported in the 2000 census. From this, the author concludes that, since under-enumeration is much more pronounced for girls than boys, the reported child sex ratio at birth imbalance is likely to be inflated.
168. Differential under-enumeration is not limited to children under age 1 or aged 0-6. The declared number of births during the past 12 months, even when disaggregated by sex, may also contain differential under-enumeration errors. This is illustrated by the case of Malawi, where the 2008 census counted 268,876 female births, but only 247,753 male births, implying a sex ratio at birth as low as 92.1. The corresponding numbers of children under age 1 were 255,576 and 247,809, respectively. The latter implies a sex ratio of 97.0, which is actually more balanced. Because there is no plausible reason to assume that such deviant sex ratios could be caused by the differential abortion of male foetuses, the only acceptable explanation is differential under-enumeration of male infants and particularly male births. What could be causing this phenomenon is a puzzling question that should be reason for concern for the census authorities. The 2007 census of Ethiopia enumerated 897,827 boys and 877,627 girls under age 1, implying a sex ratio of 102.3, which is more in line with expected results than the data from Malawi, but still rather low, especially considering the results obtained by Garenne (2002, 2008a), cited earlier, according to which the sex ratio at birth in Ethiopia was found to be relatively high.
4. Tabulations
HERE AND ELSEWHERE, WE NEED TO SEPARATE MORE BY ETHNIC GROUP
169. The Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Censuses Rev. 2 (United Nations, 2008 a) recommends to tabulate population by single years of age and sex. From this tabulation, one can calculate sex ratios for various age groups and geographical areas. One should bear in mind, however, what was noted in the previous section, about the possibility of age-specific differences in under-enumeration or age misdeclaration by sex, particularly under age 1.
Figure 5: Hong Kong, 2006 Census – Population Pyramid and Age-Specific Sex-Ratios

5-year age-specific pyramid Graph of age-specific sex-ratios



Men Women


170. This recommended tabulation can also be represented by 5-year age groups in the form of a population pyramid. However, if the objective is specifically to represent sex ratios, the population pyramid may be hard to interpret and it may be better to depict the age-specific ratios directly. As examples, just above are a conventional age pyramid by 5-year age groups with men on the left and women on the right for the 2006 census of Hong Kong and on the right, the age-specific sex ratios graphed with the same data.
171. Preferably, sex ratios at birth need to be separated by birth order as the perceived need for sex-selection increases with birth order and the sex composition of the other siblings. This procedure can be further improved by separating the previous births by sex. For example, families with one girl and one boy rarely apply sex selection to the third birth, but if both of the previous children are girls, the sex ratio among the third births tends to be very high. If the census differentiates the surviving children and children born during the past 12 months by sex, the procedure is straightforward; otherwise it may be necessary to obtain the sex composition of the children by analysing the children with the appropriate relationship to the head of household.

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