Asia is home to 60 percent of the world's population. Most of these people are concentrated in China, Southeast Asia, Korea, Japan, Indonesia and the Indian subcontinent. China and India account for 60 percent of Asia's population and about 30 percent of the world’s population. Half of the world's 30 largest cities are in Asia.

Population growth in Asia is bringing economic growth there are shifting economic power to Asia. But there are concerns. In a speech in June 2011, Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said: “Of the 7 billion people that now inhabit our plant, 60 percent live in Asia . As their economies grow, they will seek and compete for finite natural resources, a pattern that in previous centuries led to wars, conquest, exploitation and untold suffering.”

The population of Asia in 2000 was around 3.5 billion. It is expected to rise to 5.2 billion by 2050.

Percentage of population in urban areas in 2000: 35 percent. [Source: U.N. State of World Cities]

Percentage of population in urban areas in 2020: 46 percent. [Source: U.N. State of World Cities]

Population Growth: Average number of children per woman: 2.54 children per woman in 2001, compared to just over 3 in 1991.

More Boys Than Girls Born in Asia

In many Asia countries there are more men than women and more boys are born every year than girls. This contrast with many Western countries where are more women than men, in part because women tend to live longer. The high number of men in Asia is probably explained by the fact that boys in poor parts of the world are more likely to receive better medical care between the ages of one and five than girls because sons are more sought after than daughters.

Male births are far outnumbering female births in East Asia, South Asia and West Asia. While the normal sex ratio at birth is about 105 males to 100 females, in the county of Suining, China, for example, 152 boys are born for every 100 girls. There are 100 million fewer women in Asia than there should be if all girls were born and given the same treatment as boys.

China has one of the greatest gender disparities among newborns of any country in the world, and this is all the more alarming because China is such a populous nation. In 2005, 118 boys were born for every 100 girls, up from 110 boys per 100 girls in 2000 and 112 in 1990. One Chinese expert told the Times of London the rate seem to have peaked to 120.4 at the end of 2006. The sex ratio is expected to remain skewed at around 119 boys for every 100 girls through the 2030s. Worldwide, 103 to 107 boys are born for every 100 girls.

According to the most recent census, the sex ratio between was 105.2 males for every 100 females in 2010, compared with 106.74 in 2000. Leo Lewis wrote in the Times of London, “But those numbers are skewed in an ageing population because women have a longer life expectancy than men. When asked about the gender imbalance among newborns, the Government admitted that there were currently 118.06 boys born for every 100 girls — a 1.2 per cent increase from the previous census.”

Preference for Boys

In many Asian societies boys tend to be coddled and girls have to try harder. Boys are given the choicest cuts of meat and sent to the doctor with the first signs of a fever while girls are given leftovers told to endure even if they really sick. This is one reason why girls have a higher mortality rate than boys in Asia.

In many Asian societies boys are regarded as important because they look after property; inherit land; have more opportunities to get ahead in life than daughters; care for parents when they get old; and perform important ceremonial duties when the parents die. They care for parents spirits in the afterlife so their spirits do not wander the earth as hungry ghosts.

Girls, on the other hand, have to give away any property they possess to their husband and are not supposed to take care of their parents in old age. A daughters responsibility to her family ends when she gets married. She moves in with her husband, often in another village or town, and become part of her husband's family and helps care for them. In China there is an expression, "Daughters are like water that splashes out of the family and cannot be gotten back after marriage."

Reasons for Preference for Boys in Asia

The UN says a preference for sons reflects socio-economic influences and deep-rooted traditions in which sons alone inherit property, care for ageing parents and so on, while daughters may require dowries and leave their families once married.

In a review of the book "Unnatural Selection by Mara Hvistendahl, Elaine Showalter wrote in the Washington Post: “When scientists and sociologists first began to draw attention to this imbalance in the 1990s, they thought that large-scale female infanticide had reemerged and that infant girls were being killed. But slowly they realized that female offspring were being identified in the fetal state by amniocentesis and ultrasound, and aborted by parental wish. Feminists blame the gender imbalance on patriarchal cultural prejudice against girls and daughters. But Hvistendahl, who has not only done her research but has also carried out extensive investigative journalism in several countries, blames much more complex geopolitical and economic forces, including imperialist political decisions, American medical technology and the drive for population control. [Source: Elaine Showalter, Washington Post, June 15, 2011; Showalter is a professor emeritus at Princeton University]

”She traces the development and marketing of amniocentesis and American ultrasound machinery, the rise of genetic counseling, and drastic government policies to curb population, such as China's one-baby policy, instituted in 1980. The international availability of prenatal screening in the 1980s and government tolerance or support of abortion as a means of birth control made it possible for parents to choose the sex of their children. Hvistendahl identifies the common elements from country to country: First, rapid development allows prenatal screening; second, abortion is easily available; third, the practice starts with elite groups and trickles down to the general population.

”Despite these factors, the most significant cause of the imbalance is still the widespread desire for male children, especially among elite groups with access to advanced medical technology. Population-control experts realized that, in many countries, people kept on having children until they had a son; Guilmoto notes that "there is a general trend of son preference" in much of the world. Demographers and Asian policymakers realized that if couples could have a male child early, they would stop having multiple children. In the words of Washington journalist Elisabeth Bumiller, sex selection is "a powerful example of what can happen when modern technology collides with the forces of a traditional society."

Ultrasound and the Shrinking Number of Women in Asia

In 2011 AFP reported: “Increased access to technology that allows parents to know the sex of their foetus has left Asia short of 117 million women, mostly in China and India, the UN said on Thursday. The trend is expected to influence the affected countries for more than 50 years, particularly through a shortage of brides for Chinese and Indian men, according to experts at a conference organised by the UN and Vietnam in Hanoi. "This skewed population sex ratio reflects a preference for sons, in combination with increasing access to new sex-selection technology" such as ultrasound, the UN Population Fund said in a conference paper.[Source: AFP, October 6, 2011]

Sex determination leads many parents to resort to "selective abortions", said French demographer Christophe Guilmoto. In most countries the sex ratio at birth ranges from 104 to 106 male births for every 100 females, "but its level has gradually increased over the last 25 years in several Asian countries, particularly in China and India", the UN said. UN figures covering the past few years show China with 118.1 male babies for 100 females, India 110.6, Azerbaijan 117.6 and Vietnam 111.2.

"Meanwhile, postnatal discrimination -- expressed through excess deaths among female infants and young girls -- has not entirely disappeared from several countries and reflects the relative neglect of female children," Guilmoto said in a conference paper.Guilmoto said that even if the sex ratio at birth returned to normal within 10 years, Chinese and Indian men would still face a "marriage squeeze" for several decades. "Not only would these men have to marry significantly older, but this growing marriage imbalance would also lead to a rapid rise in male bachelorhood... an important change in countries where almost everyone used to get married," Guilmoto said.

"Dealing with the future demographic consequences of past and present sex imbalances at birth and their societal impact may soon become the next challenge to respective governments," Guilmoto said. Though some countries like Vietnam prohibit foetal sex determination, Guilmoto said such bans are difficult to enforce. Heeran Chun, of Jungwon University in South Korea, said her country is "unique" in bringing down to near-normal levels its high sex ratio which peaked in the early 1990s.

Consequences of Too Many Men in Asia

Niall Ferguson wrote in Newsweek: In 1927, Ernest Hemingway published a collection of short stories titled Men Without Women...Most of Hemingway’s stories in Men Without Women are about violence. They feature gangsters, bullfighters, and wounded soldiers. The most famous story is called simply “The Killers.” [Source: Niall Ferguson, Newsweek, March 6, 2011]

According to the German scholar Gunnar Heinsohn, European imperial expansion after 1500 was the result of a male “youth bulge.” Japan’s imperial expansion after 1914 was the result of a similar youth bulge, Heinsohn argues. During the Cold War, it was youth-bulge countries — Algeria, El Salvador, and Lebanon — that saw the worst civil wars and revolutions. Heinsohn has also linked the recent rise of Islamist extremism in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan to an Islamic youth bulge. Political scientists Valerie Hudson and Andrea den Boer warn that China and India could be the next countries to overdose on testosterone.

It may be that the coming generation of Asian men without women will find harmless outlets for their inevitable frustrations, like team sports or videogames. But I doubt it. Either this bachelor generation will be a source of domestic instability, whether Brazilian-style crime or Arab-style revolution — or, as happened in Europe, they and their testosterone will be exported. There’s already enough shrill nationalism in Asia as it is. Don’t be surprised if, in the next generation, it takes the form of macho militarism and even imperialism. Lock up your daughters.

“Unnatural Selection”: Book about a World with Too Many Men in Asia

”In "Unnatural Selection,"Elaine Showalter wrote in the Washington Post, “Mara Hvistendahl, a Beijing-based journalist specializing in science, warns of an impending hormonal tsunami of surplus Asian men, deprived of their demographic mates by sex-selective abortions and creating a world of male violence and sexual predation. In this world, "roid rage" from extra testosterone and the decline in the calming power of marriage could lead to an epidemic of young men driven to delinquency, crime and murder--and that's just the beginning. [Source: Elaine Showalter, Washington Post, June 15, 2011; Showalter is a professor emeritus at Princeton University]

”These surplus boys may feel happy when they are small, but they will grow up condemned to singlehood. According to the French demographer Christophe Guilmoto, we are facing an epidemic of "rampant demographic masculinization" that will have "grave effects for future generations."

In the last section of her book, "The Womanless World," Hvistendahl examines the dire costs of such a gender imbalance: the traffic in foreign brides and rises in polyandry, child marriage, prostitution, sex tourism, sexually transmitted disease and social violence. Of course, it's the United States that has the highest homicide rate in the world, 10 times the rate of Japan, and some historians believe that the male-dominated frontier, especially the Wild West, planted "the seeds of a nation's violence" and its macho values.

Tracing American violence to the frontier seems simplistic to me, but overall Hvistendahl is convincing, backing up her details with in-depth interviews with scientists from China to California. But is her book alarming or alarmist? After all, scientific change has unintended consequences, both positive and negative. Scarcity and the law of supply and demand may give women more bargaining power in marital choice. In India, "interregional marriage is breaking down the caste hierarchy." In Vietnam, bought brides are valuable because they can get money to return to their families, and in China families now prefer daughters who can marry abroad and send money home. The government policies that encouraged the imbalance may be changed to reverse it. South Korea achieved a normal birth rate in 2007 as a result of "gender-sensitive policies."

Some scholars, however, do not think gender imbalance and sex determination have such high-risk consequences...Arno G. Motulsky, a geneticist at the University of Washington, noted that although Alaska, for example, has more males than females, it "has not encountered serious societal dislocations." Amitai Etzioni, who worried about gender imbalance in an article for Science in 1968, has now changed his mind and has not found "enough compelling damage that would lead us to stop science." And Hvistendahl herself acknowledges that anti-abortion groups could use the data to block abortions for American women, and she feels uneasy about "treading onto unexpected political ground."

Asians Have Tougher Time Getting Pregnant with In-Vitro Fertilization

In 2007, Reuters Health reported: “In-vitro fertilization (IVF) is apt to be more successful in white women than in Asian women, a study suggests. Women of Asian descent were 29 percent less likely than their Caucasian counterparts to become pregnant after IVF, Dr. Karen Purcell of Fertility Physicians of Northern California in San Jose and her colleagues found. [Sources: Reuters Health, March 9, 2007; Fertility and Sterility, February 2007]

”Little data is available on how ethnicity affects outcome after infertility treatment, the researchers write in the journal Fertility and Sterility. To investigate, Purcell and her team looked at national U.S. data on 25,843 whites and 1,429 Asians who underwent IVF, as well as more detailed information on 370 white and 197 Asian patients treated at one clinic in San Francisco. Asian and white women treated at the California clinic were similar in a number of factors that affect IVF outcome, such as the number of eggs retrieved per cycle, age, hormone level, and cause of male infertility. The type of treatment and dosage of hormones the women in both groups received also were similar.

”Despite these similarities, the Asian women were 31 percent less likely to become pregnant and 33 percent less likely to deliver a live infant than white women. In the national data set, results were similar. Asian women were 29 percent less likely to become pregnant and 31 percent less likely to deliver a live infant, and the difference remained significant even after the researchers adjusted for a woman's age and other factors that could affect outcome.

”There could be fundamental genetic or biological differences between Asian and white women that affect IVF success, while environmental factors could also be at work, the researchers note. For example, studies have shown Asian and Pacific Islanders have higher levels of methyl mercury in their blood due to higher seafood consumption, which could be toxic to a developing embryo.

”Further study should investigate these issues, the authors say, as well as whether the man's ethnicity and whether or not it is the same as his partner's might be a factor. "Physicians and patients," the investigators conclude, "need to be aware that infertile Asian women may have more difficulty conceiving than Caucasian women, and appropriate counseling should be made during the treatment course for Asian women."

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated November 2012

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.