Academic journal article Population

Are Sex Ratios at Birth Increasing in Vietnam?

Academic journal article Population

Are Sex Ratios at Birth Increasing in Vietnam?

Article excerpt

Increasing sex ratios in some countries of Asia have attracted considerable attention over the past decade. Beginning with the counts of the world's "missing daughters" by Amartya Sen (1990) and Ansley Coale (1991), which were estimated to range from 60 to 100 million as of the early 1990s, a significant amount of research has been generated (Aghihotri, 2002; Das Gupta and Bhat, 1997; Klasen and Wink, 2002; Li et al., 2000; Poston et al., 1997). Part of this research explores the causes and consequences of abnormal numbers of males in relation to females. The factors explaining increasing sex ratios at birth have been of particular interest to demographers (Hull, 1990; Li et al., 2000; Park and Cho, 1995; Unisa et al., 2002; Zeng et al., 1993). In the demographic literature, three factors have been identified as explanations for the high sex ratios at birth found in China, South Korea and India: an undercount of infant girls, the use of selective abortion of female foetuses, and the neglect of daughters - infanticide being the extreme form - resulting in higher mortality for girls than boys during the first year of life. The relative importance of each of these factors varies depending on the nature of the country's population policies, the availability of abortion, access to medical technology for determining the sex of the foetus and differential caring practices for male and female infants. There is a consensus, however, that sex-selective abortion accounts for very high numbers of missing daughters, particularly in Confucian Asia that includes China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea, where fertility is low and abortion and ultrasound technology are widely available. In contrast, a combination of prenatal and postnatal strategies perpetuates the discrimination against daughters in India (Cohen, 2002; Das Gupta and Bhat, 1997; Sudha and Rajan, 1999; Unisa et al., 2002).

The underlying cause of high sex ratios at birth is a strong preference for sons. These societies share a patrilineal, patrilocal and patriarchal kinship system, in which sons hold a higher status and have more value to their parents than daughters. Sons are crucial to parents and other kin members for economic, social, cultural and spiritual reasons. While the value of sons as a source of labour has been highlighted for developing societies, the case of South Korea illustrates eloquently that the cultural and spiritual value of sons may persist in the context of socio-economic development (Larsen et al., 1998). In spite of low and declining fertility, son preference remains high and may even be exacerbated because of a clash between a low demand for children - or people's desire to have a small family - and a high demand for sons (Croll, 2000; Das Gupta and Bhat, 1997). Low fertility can be achieved while the desire for sons may continue to lead the family building process. Without human intervention, however, it is impossible for a large proportion of parents to only have a few children, yet have at least one or two sons. Prevailing, and even increasing, son preference in some Asian societies has been attributed to cultural values that may override the effects of small family size and socio-economic development in promoting greater gender equality among children (Croll, 2000).

Vietnam shares a similar kinship system and cultural Confucian heritage with China and South Korea. However, little is known about whether sex ratios have increased and whether sex-selective abortions of female foetuses are performed. Vital statistics are incomplete and the first complete census was conducted only in 19890. In 1999, a new census was conducted and results were made available in late 2001. An examination of the situation in Vietnam, therefore, is now possible and particularly important, since son preference has been clearly identified in demographic research as having a strong influence on contraceptive and fertility behaviour in the country (Haughton and Haughton, 1995; Johansson, 1996, 1998). …

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