Imagine what the U.S. might look like if every woman and girl in the country simply vanished — gone from family meals, their office chairs, every grocery store aisle and every highway. That same number of females, roughly 160 million people, is how many are girls and women are missing worldwide, according to a new book released this month. No, they're not abductees or kidnap victims. Mostly they're people who were never born at all.
Today in China there are 120 boys born for every 100 girls, according to U.N. estimates. Sex ratios at birth are also unnaturally skewed in India, with 108 boys born for every 100 girls, and in South Korea too, with 110. The imbalance also exists in parts of western Asia and Eastern Europe, where the distorted sex ratio cuts across religious, cultural and linguistic lines. In Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, for example, there are 115, 117 and 111 boys born, respectively, for every 100 girls. There's even evidence that strangely many males are being born among Asian Americans living in the U.S.
So what's driving the imbalance? Beijing-based journalist Mara Hvistendahl set out to investigate exactly that question. Her book Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men comes out June 7. She spoke with TIME about why women are becoming scarce, what that means for the world and why, so far, so few people have bothered to act.
Next:The Rise of Sex-Selective Abortion
Greater and greater numbers of boys are being born for every girl. In her new book, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, Beijing-based journalist Mara Hvistendahl investigates what’s driving the sex imbalance.