A preference for sons may be rooted in centuries-old tradition, but the rising sex ratio is no more than a few decades old. Hvistendahl explains that sex-selective abortion was in fact promoted by American scholars and non-governmental organizations in the 20th century as a way to stanch population growth. If families kept having children to ensure at least one son, the thinking went, then many "excess" births could be averted by terminating the less-wanted female ones.
Sex-selection was by no means the most drastic proposal for slowing the world's rapid population growth in the mid-late 20th century. As Hvistendahl documents, along with historian Matthew Connelly in his 2008 book Fatal Misconception, many Americans and Europeans in Asia encouraged routine sterilization and even forced abortion among couples who already had children. "Compared to some of the solutions that [population control advocates] came up with, sex-selection looked weirdly ethical," Hvistendahl tells TIME. "It wasn't coercive."
Next:Women Become Scarce, but Not Precious
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.