UCL News


China's excess males: government must do more

13 June 2008

Further generations of surplus men will emerge in China if the government does not both take action against the illegal practice of sex selective abortion and relax the one child policy, according to a UCL academic speaking today at the UCL-China Research Festival 2008.

In an examination of the one child policy after 25 years, Dr Therese Hesketh, UCL Centre for International Health and Development, will emphasise how poignant an issue the one child policy has become due to the number of people who lost a child in the Sichuan earthquake.

She will also present figures outlining the scale of the sex ratio problem, identifying nearly 30 million excess males under the age of 20 in China and over one million excess male births in the year studied (2005).

The ratio of men to women in most populations is remarkably constant if left untouched - between 103 and 107 male births for every 100 female births. However, the tradition of son preference has distorted these natural sex ratios in China and other parts of Asia and North Africa.

Figures presented by Dr Hesketh suggest that sex ratios are consistently higher than normal, with a national ratio of 120 males to 100 females at birth, with this rising to as high as 140 males to 100 females in the 1-4 age range in some rural Chinese provinces. This pattern means that millions of men will struggle to find sexual partners in adulthood and may be marginalised in a society where social acceptance depends heavily on marriage and family.

The figures are based on the most recent national population survey conducted in China (the Intercensus Survey 2005) and paint a discouraging picture of very high and worsening sex ratios that will impact on Chinese society for at least the next two decades. The research was led by Dr Hesketh in collaboration with colleagues at the Zhejiang University in Hangzhou.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Hesketh said: "It is too late to prevent the imminent generation of excess men, but measures taken now could avoid this pattern in further generations. Our findings show that the elimination of sex selective abortion itself would virtually solve the problem, and further relaxation of the one child policy will also have some impact on sex ratio.

"The one child policy has been in operation for over 25 years and has impacted on the lives of over one fifth of the world's population. When it was introduced it was intended as a short term measure with the aim of moving to a small family culture. Since the onset of the policy the total fertility rate has fallen and an estimated 300 million births have been prevented. However, sex ratios have become increasingly skewed.

"In a very large country even small differences in sex ratios translate into large numbers of excess men. Indeed, our figures indicate that the problem of excess males in China appears to outstrip that of all other countries. More needs to be done - and urgently."


Notes for Editors

1. Journalists seeking more information, or interviews with Dr Hesketh, can contact Ruth Metcalfe in the UCL Media Relations Office on tel: +44 (0)20 7679 9739, mobile: +44 (0)7990 675 947, out of hours: +44 (0)7917 271 364, e-mail: r.metcalfe@ucl.ac.uk

2. The UCL-China Research Festival is on Friday 13 June 2008 from 9 am to 5 pm at University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT. More information, including the programme, can be found at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/global/china/CRF-08/.