The ratio of baby boys to baby girls born in India now appears to be normalizing, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of India’s National Family Health Survey. Since the 1970s, the ratio of boys to girls has been artificially skewed, leading to millions of “missing girls”—the estimated number of how many more females there would be if there were no sex-selective abortions and mistreatment or neglect of females.
For most of human history, until the early 1980s, there has been a slight, yet consistent, excess of baby boys over baby girls born in any population. During that period the sex ratio at birth (SRB) tended to fall within a narrow range, usually around 103 to 106 newborn boys for every 100 newborn girls.
But scholars have observed that the ratios can become heavily skewed when three preconditions are met: a widespread desire for sons and/or aversion to daughters; parents seeking to have smaller families; and the availability of ultrasound technology and abortion services (which became more widespread in the 1970s).
Since the 1980s, biologically impossible ratios have been found in various countries around the world, including Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, El Salvador, Egypt, Georgia, Greece, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Libya, Macedonia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Portugal, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Spain,Taiwan, Tunisia, Yugoslavia, and Venezuela.
When China implemented a one-child policy in the late 1970s, the SRBs in some regions of the country increased to between 120 and 130. As demographer Nicholas Eberstadt has pointed out, this is “a phenomenon utterly without natural precedent in human history.” Because of China’s one-child policy, there are an estimated 30 million to 60 million “missing girls.”
China ended its one-child policy in 2016 and adopted a three-child policy in 2021. Today, China is tied with Azerbaijan for the highest SBR in the world, at 115. Two other former Soviet republics—Armenia (114) and Georgia (109)—also top the list of highest SBRs. From 2000 to 2020, Vietnam and Albania had the world’s fourth- and fifth-widest average annual sex ratio at birth (111 each).
India remains near the top of the global list, with an average sex ratio at birth of around 110. The size of the population means the country has an outsized impact on the overall number of girls killed by sex-selective abortion. China currently has the world’s largest population (1.426 billion), but India (1.417 billion) is expected to claim this title next year. Because of sex-selective abortion or neglect, an estimated 142.6 million females went “missing” between 1970 and 2020, according to a 2020 UN report. Two countries—China (51%) and India (32%)—accounted for more than two-thirds of that total.
As Pew Research notes, countries where males heavily outnumber females at birth also tend to have a high childhood mortality rate for girls, either because girls are being killed soon after birth, or because they are neglected by their parents during childhood.
Religion in India has historically been a determining influence on the preference for baby boys, and thus on the SRB. In 2001, Sikhs had 130 boys for every 100 girls. The Sikh birth ratio today is around 110—closer to the country’s Hindu majority (109). Muslims in the country also have an artificially high rate at 106. At 103, the Christians in India have an SRB ratio that is closer to the natural balance.
The one bright spot in the analysis is the influence of Chrisitanity in India, especially in the southern area of the country. As the report says, Christianity has been a boon for women:
Women, in particular, may have benefited from these types of changes. Christian missions in India have emphasized evangelical work among women since the 19th century, operating schools for girls as well as for boys. There were also missionary programs dedicated to educating women and training them for employment, such as the Mukti (Salvation) Mission. In addition, many Christian organizations prioritize maternal and child health by improving women’s access to health care facilities. Some scholars trace Christian missionary work to long-lasting benefits for Christians and cite the Christian emphasis on empowering women as a partial explanation for Christian girls’ better health outcomes.
There remains a significant need for more evangelism within the country. According to the Joshua Project, India has the largest number of unreached people of any nation—1.3 billion people within 2,135 unreached people groups.
These realities around the world are a call to action. First, we can pray that God will raise up missionaries and that the gospel will spread throughout the land. We can also pray that people will be saved and that Christianity’s influence will bring about an overall cultural change. We must also advocate, in our communities and on an international stage, for the dignity of every person—including the preborn—to be recognized and upheld. And we must be willing to step up and care for children who need a loving home and come alongside parents who need help raising their kids. Finally, let’s pray that God will use all of these efforts to lead to a future where no country will have millions of “missing girls.”