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Unnatural Selection

The Consequences of a World Full of Men

Mara Hvistendahl

In South Korea and Taiwan, surplus men obtain wives in one-week "marriage tours" of Vietnam. In wealthier parts of India and China, men buy women from the poorer regions, working through brokers who may or may not get the woman's consent.In poorer parts of India and China, they visit brothels staffed by prostitutes often sold into slavery by impoverished families.

Town in China, Suining, in 2007 had 152 boys born to every 100 girls. Another city, Lianyungang, statisticians found 163 boys for every 100 girls undef 5. And in Tianmen, Hubei, 176.

In the 1950's, the impetus for birth control came from the US, specifically from people like John D Rockefeller III, who we would consider very right wing today. They drew a straight line from over-population to national poverty to communist takeover. So the best way to defeat communism was to make Third World countries more prosperous, and the easiest way to make a difference was to get the population down.

In 1969, Robert McNamara, World Bank president and former US secretary of defence, made it explicit. He didn't want to fund public health work "unless it was very strictly related to population control, because usually health facilities contributed to the decline in the death rate, and thereby to the population explosion."

But this was a world-wide view, not just American imperialism. Mao's one-child program was seen as the quickest way of boosting GNP, so that instead of China shamefully contributing to the world problem of over-population, it would proudly help solve it.

But we know that it is actually self-interest rather than government policies that have most effect, because it is the wealthier parts of the population whose birth rates drop first. As the middle-class possessions of TV, fridge, air-con and vehicle get within reach, it makes more sense to save for those rather than spend money on children, particularly since modern medicine virtually guarantees that almost all will survive to adulthood.

Early sociologists often blamed 'traditional practices'for female infanticide in places such as India. But recent research suggests that it was economic changes introduced by the British (more taxes on natives) that made it difficult for families to afford dowries.

For the first generation to mature when men greatly outnumber the women, surplus men simply marry younger women, so the problem doesn't really affect them. But the next generation is in trouble - they have to compete not only with their peers, but with older, richer men as well. So many men in the second generation never marry. They are stuck between rock (no available women) and a hard place (tradition dictates that they marry within their own society).

But the third generation, sees all their unmarried uncles, and realizes that they will have to break the rules if they don't want to remain single. They are the ones who go off to Vietnam, Philippines, Russia, Malaysia and even North Korea, to import brides.

But there simply are not enough women there to meet the demand. As of 2013, 1 in 10 Chinese lack a female counterpart. In 20- years, 1 in 5 men will be surplus. In just a few years, the number of surplus Chinese men in their 20's will outnumber the entire female population of Taiwan. The same situation will play out across Asia. In northwest India, 15-20 per cent of men will be surplus by 2020.

And the situation is worsened by another trend - most Western countries are short of nurses and care-givers for the elderly. So whereas once it was the men who emigrated to the West to find jobs, now women go in much larger numbers. And when they get to the West, they marry up - to Westerners with a job, rather than to their male peers who would struggle to earn a living, even if they could get to the US.

International marriages so common that changing traditional systems. In Korea, biracial children of American servicemen were ostracized. But so many babies from imported brides that exclusion no longer an option. In India, inter-regional marriages breaking down the caste hierarchy, and women marrying without having to provide dowries.

Vietnamese women manage to send back so much money to their family village that female children much more valuable than boys, so gender selection issue turned upside down. But that value rarely translates into better treatment for the brides themselves - their higher value puts them at greater risk of kidnap, and the price the man has to pay makes him more conscious of how much she "owes" him. Furthermore, the price a family can get for their daughters from a Taiwanese is far higher than what a local man can offer, so the village men go without wives.

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