odd man in?
I caught this very, very interesting story on NPR yesterday: "Male Birth Rate Among Asian Americans Studied".
Here's the short version: Columbia Univ. economists Douglas Almond and Lena Edlund studied the 2000 Census and found that, for Chinese, Korean and Asian Indian American parents, those with two daughters (as their first two children) were 50% more likely to have a son for their third child. This simply isn't naturally possible, suggesting that there is some kind of sex selection going on though the researchers have been very careful not to draw conclusions as to what form said selection takes since they didn't collect data on that part of the question.
Here's the personal anecdote: I've known at least two Asian American families growing up where the parents had four daughters. Not that I ever asked the parents but you just assume, in those cases, they're trying for that son and finally gave up.
Here's getting back to Almond/Edlund's study. I took a look at the summary version of their research (warning: you need to be logged into a university system to access) which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Some findings worth sharing:
So what does this all mean?
For starters, let's just ask the unspoken question here: are Asian Americans more likely to use abortion as a means for sex selection? Given the wide availability and affordability of prenatal sex testing and abortion (compared to ineffective or more expensive means of sex selection), it's a rational economic argument that, if you were going to sex select, testing + abortion would be the way to go.
I was looking at the CDC's abortion surveillance stats but given that 1) I'm not a quant guy and 2) it's past midnight, I'm not sure if these tell us anything meaningful since, 1) Asian American women are aggregated with Native Americans and others under the always-popular "Other" category so it's impossible to parse the numbers down just for Asian Americans, let alone just Chinese/Korean/Indian. 2) Table 14 suggests that Other women (presumably including Asian Americans) over the age of 30 are more likely to pursue an abortion relative to White and Blacks in the same respective age group but since Table 14 measures overall abortions rather than per capita, I'm not sure one can read the chart as suggesting that the abortion rates are actually higher within those populations vis a vis others. Maybe someone who is more stat-trained and/or awake than I can crunch that.
Even taking the abortion angle off the table - and I noticed a pro-life group is already using the study to suggest that Asian Americans are abortion-crazy - the study confirms something that most of "us" already knew: Asian American society has a patriarchal slant (pun intended), at least when it comes to prioritizing sons. If someone else has a counter-read to this conclusion, I'd be curious to hear what it is.
Lingering questions: First of all, I find it interesting that among my circle of Asian American couples, everyone wanted daughters - not necessarily exclusively, but most certainly at least one, if not the only child they'd ever have. That was certainly true for Sharon and I and we feel pretty lucky we ended up with a daughter (albeit a daughter who doesn't always eat her veggies and is in the middle of a worrisome princess phase but that's another story). But I was struck by how common this seemed to be with other people we know. This could suggest that, given a generation or so, the SBR might fade within Asian America, at least among 2nd and 3rd generation APIs (something, quite notably, the study doesn't parse but perhaps they didn't have access to the necessary data to do so).
Second, and this is a bit of an aside, but the study notes that the biological norm for male/female is 1.05 sons born for every daughter. I'm no evolutionary scholar (but if you are, chime in!) but wouldn't it make sense for that to go the other way? Wouldn't, from an evolutionary point of view, having a higher ratio of women being born be more advantageous, especially since most women only bear one child at a time, with a long gestation period? I don't see the benefit in producing an excess of men when it's really women you need to propagate the species.