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, 116 (19), 9303-9311

Systematic Assessment of the Sex Ratio at Birth for All Countries and Estimation of National Imbalances and Regional Reference Levels


Systematic Assessment of the Sex Ratio at Birth for All Countries and Estimation of National Imbalances and Regional Reference Levels

Fengqing Chao et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A.


The sex ratio at birth (SRB; ratio of male to female live births) imbalance in parts of the world over the past few decades is a direct consequence of sex-selective abortion, driven by the coexistence of son preference, readily available technology of prenatal sex determination, and fertility decline. Estimation of the degree of SRB imbalance is complicated because of unknown SRB reference levels and because of the uncertainty associated with SRB observations. There are needs for reproducible methods to construct SRB estimates with uncertainty, and to assess SRB inflation due to sex-selective abortion. We compile an extensive database from vital registration systems, censuses and surveys with 10,835 observations, and 16,602 country-years of information from 202 countries. We develop Bayesian methods for SRB estimation for all countries from 1950 to 2017. We model the SRB regional and national reference levels, the fluctuation around national reference levels, and the inflation. The estimated regional reference levels range from 1.031 (95% uncertainty interval [1.027; 1.036]) in sub-Saharan Africa to 1.063 [1.055; 1.072] in southeastern Asia, 1.063 [1.054; 1.072] in eastern Asia, and 1.067 [1.058; 1.077] in Oceania. We identify 12 countries with strong statistical evidence of SRB imbalance during 1970-2017, resulting in 23.1 [19.0; 28.3] million missing female births globally. The majority of those missing female births are in China, with 11.9 [8.5; 15.8] million, and in India, with 10.6 [8.0; 13.6] million.

Keywords: Bayesian hierarchical model; missing female births; sex ratio at birth; sex-selective abortion; son preference.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.
Global and regional SRB estimates in 1990 and 2017, and regional baseline values of SRB. Dots indicate median estimates, and horizontal lines refer to 95% uncertainty intervals. Regional baseline values are in dark green, where the vertical line segments refer to median estimates, and green shaded areas are 95% uncertainty intervals.
Fig. 2.
Fig. 2.
SRB estimates during 1950–2017 for countries with strong statistical evidence of SRB inflation. The scale on the left y axis refers to SRB, and the scale on the right y axis refers to TFR. Red lines and shaded areas are country-specific SRB median estimates and their 95% uncertainty intervals. Dark green horizontal lines are median estimates for regional SRB baselines. Light green horizontal lines are median estimates for national SRB baselines. Observations from different data series are differentiated by colors, where VR data are black solid dots. The blue square dots are the UN WPP 2017 TFR estimates. Blue vertical lines indicate median estimates for start and end years (if before 2017) of SRB inflation period. TFR values in the start years of SRB inflation periods are shown.
Fig. 3.
Fig. 3.
SRB in 2017 and the CMFB during 1970–2017, by country. Countries are colored by the levels of their SRB median estimates. Radii of circles are proportional to CMFB for countries. For high-resolution plot of Fig. 3, see SI Appendix, section 11.

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