The secular trends in male:female ratio at birth in postwar industrialized countries

Environ Health Perspect. 2001 Jul;109(7):749-52. doi: 10.1289/ehp.01109749.


Finnish investigators [Vartiainen et al. Environmental Chemicals and Changes in Sex Ratio: Analysis Over 250 Years in Finland. Environ Health Perspect 107:813-815 (1999)] presented the sex ratio of all newborn babies from 1751 to 1997 in order to evaluate whether Finnish long-term data are compatible with the hypothesis that the decrease in the ratio of male to female births after World War I and World War II in industrial countries is caused by environmental factors. They found an increase in the proportion of males from 1751 to 1920, which was interrupted by peaks in male births during World War I and World War II and followed by a decrease thereafter, similar to the trends in many other countries. The turning point of male proportion, however, preceded the period of industrialization and introduction of pesticides and hormonal drugs. Thus, a causal association between these environmental exposures and this decrease is unlikely. In addition, none of the various family parameters (e.g., paternal age, maternal age, age difference in parents, birth order) could explain the historical time trends. Vartiainen et al. concluded that at present it is unknown how these historical trends could be mediated. The postwar secular decline of the male:female ratio at birth is not an isolated phenomenon and parallels the decline of perinatal morbidity and mortality, congenital anomalies, and various constitutional diseases. This parallelism indicates a common etiology and may be caused by reduction of conceptopathology, as a correlate to increasing socioeconomic development. An inverted dose response or the dose-response fallacy due to vanishing male conceptuses explains the low sex ratios before World War I and World War II in newborns from black parents and from the lowest socioeconomic classes.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Black People
  • Diet
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Environmental Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Epidemiologic Studies
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Industry
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Sex Ratio*
  • Social Class


  • Environmental Pollutants