Female-selective abortion in Asia: patterns, policies, and debates

Am Anthropol. 2001 Dec;103(4):1083-95. doi: 10.1525/aa.2001.103.4.1083.


Since the early 1980s, the use of sex-selective abortion increased in many Asian contexts. Estimates indicate that several million female fetuses were aborted in the last two decades of the twentieth century. This article takes a currently unusual approach for a cultural anthropologist in pursuing cross-national comparisons of trends in sex-selective abortion. The risks involved in such an approach are taken in the hope that it will yield insights not gained through localized analysis. After reviewing the available evidence on female-selective abortion, I discuss features of Asian culture that support strong son preference. Next I review the related issues of increased technological availability for prenatal sex selection and national policies about sex selection. Last, I consider several positions on female-selective abortion and how cultural anthropology may contribute to understanding the global context and consequences of prenatal gender discrimination.

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Eugenic*
  • Asia
  • China
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Female
  • Human Rights
  • Humans
  • India
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infanticide
  • Korea
  • Male
  • Pakistan
  • Population Control
  • Pregnancy
  • Prejudice
  • Prenatal Diagnosis / methods
  • Public Policy*
  • Sex Determination Analysis*
  • Sex Ratio
  • Taiwan