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When I visited India in 2003, I was shocked by areas of the countryside where there seemed to be not a young girl in sight. It was all boys, as far as you could see.

When we asked our tour guide about the lack of girls, he scoffed at any suggestion of infanticide or selective abortion. Instead, he told us that women could conceive a boy if they slept on a particular side of their body just after intercourse.

This was a man with a degree, a full education and seemingly worldly-wise. He surely couldn’t believe the old-wives tosh, and was just peddling nonsense to avoid reality.

But the population time-bomb in India and China is soon going to be upon us. China pursued a one-child policy that has skewed a generation towards males. India’s gender imbalance is cultural rather than state-imposed, but has a similar effect.

Take India. If the 917 girls to 1000 boys ratio is correct, that means by 2020, we are looking at over 25m (and probably closer to 35m) shortfall in girls to boys in a 15 year generation.

The back-of-envelope maths:
There are 100m plus children aged 0-4. Multiply by 3 for a 15-year generation. 300m * (1-0.914) = 25.4m

In other words, there are going to be, in all likelihood, over 20m young men in India who have no chance of finding a partner.

In China, it’s around the same scale – over 20m young men left out of the dating game. The population data used in the CIA Factbook bears this out:

0-14 years Male Female Difference
India 187,450,635 165,415,758 22,034,877
China 126,634,384 108,463,142 18,171,242

In a generation, we are going to have over 40 million enforced bachelors in India and China. What does this mean for these societies? There are several trends we can expect, as outlined in Bare Branches:

high male-to-female ratios often trigger domestic and international violence. Most violent crime is committed by young unmarried males who lack stable social bonds. Although there is not always a direct cause-and-effect relationship, these surplus men often play a crucial role in making violence prevalent within society. Governments sometimes respond to this problem by enlisting young surplus males in military campaigns and high-risk public works projects. Countries with high male-to-female ratios also tend to develop authoritarian political systems.

In other words:
– rising crime in sex trafficking and prostitution
– social bonds weaken
– riots and disillusionment
– authoritarian crackdown
– high military enrollment

Not a wildly happy future. All those who see India and China as a one-way bet should perhaps think again.

Further reading:

BBC:India’s unwanted girls
Economist: The worldwide war on baby girls
Economist: China’s population – The most surprising demographic crisis
UNFPA: Sex-Ratio Imbalance in Asia: Trends, Consequences and Policy Responses

UPDATE: The economist has a great chart on China’s population and the impact of the one-child policy.