According to government figures, India now has more women than men for the first time in history, as well as a declining birthrate in the world’s second-most populated country.
In India, parents have always preferred males over daughters, who are generally seen as troublesome and expensive due to the custom of wedding dowries.
Although sex-selective abortions are illegal, the practice continues, and national population data routinely shows one of the highest male-to-female ratios in the world.
After two years of research, the latest National Family and Health Survey, issued on Wednesday by the health ministry, found 1,020 women every 1,000 males.
This is the first time that any substantial government population survey in India, dating back to the first national census in 1876, has revealed that women outnumber males.
The figures show that India is no longer a country of “missing women,” a term used by Nobel Laureate economist Amartya Sen in a 1990 essay published in the New York Review of Books. In India at the time, there were 927 women for every 1,000 men. The ratio was 1000:1000 in NFHS-3, which was conducted in 2005-06; it was 991:1000 in NFHS-4, which was conducted in 2015-16. The sex ratio is skewed in favor of women for the first time in either NFHS or Census.
“The improved sex ratio and sex ratio at birth is also a significant achievement; even though the real picture will emerge from the census, we can say for now looking at the results that our measures for women empowerment have steered us in the right direction,” said Vikas Sheel, additional secretary, Union ministry of health and family welfare and mission director, National Health Mission.
To be sure, the gender ratio at birth for children born in the last five years is still 929, implying that son-preference, in its numerous macabre aspects, persists, but the sex ratio is a major milestone achieved as a result of policies aimed at curbing once-rampant sex selection practices and female infanticide, as well as the fact that women in India live longer than men.