21 million ‘unwanted’ girls, 63 million ‘missing’ women – Economic Survey underlines India’s gender crisis


As India grows richer will Indian women gain equality?

A key finding in the Economic Survey 2017-18 is that gender indicators are more responsive to wealth in India than they are in the typical country.

For example, for education the effect of wealth for other countries is 10.6% but the additional effect of wealth in India is 59.9% so the total effect of wealth in India is a stunning 70.6%.

On the issue of not experiencing physical or emotional violence, the effect of wealth for other countries is 2.1% while the total effect of wealth in India is a much more beneficial 33.5%.

On the downside, the only two issues where such a convergence effect is not visible are women’s employment and sex of last child – both of which have worrying implications for the country’s future and call for special attention.

On continuing son preference, the Survey updates the Amartya Sen (1990) estimate of 40 million missing women in India (nearly 100 million women were missing in the world) to 63 million.

Beyond active sex selection via fetal abortions, the Survey investigates son preference in a subtler form: looking at the sex ratio of the last child to find whether parents are more likely to stop having children after the birth of a daughter or a son. This indicator is called a meta-preference for sons, whereby on top of 63 million “missing” women India has 21 million “unwanted” girls.

Between 2005-06 and 2015-16 the sex ratio of last birth (females per hundred births) has barely budged from 39.5% to 39%.

Moving on to the other factor where India is a huge outlier in the world, the Survey reiterates the well documented finding that 36% of women being employed in 2005-06 has dipped to 24% in 2015-16.

The Survey points out, “There is a long and contested literature on whether this decline is a cause for concern or will improve naturally with time and development. There is the more general phenomenon, documented by Goldin et al (1995), of a U-shaped behavior of female labor force participation with respect to development. India is on the downward part of the ‘U’ but even more so than comparable countries.”

But note where the Survey begins its chapter, Gender and Son Meta-Preference: Is Development Itself an Antidote?  By quoting IMF chief Christine Lagarde telling Davos that women’s participation in the workforce to the level of men can boost the Indian economy by 27%.

Hence its conclusion that just as India has committed to moving up the ranks in the ease of doing business indicators, it should do so on gender outcomes too.

In particular India must mend the meta-preference for sons and low employment levels of women.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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