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Matthias W.

One effect you're overlooking is an increased tendency of violence in countries with a high male-to-female-ratio. Wars and crime can be a result of a high population of young males with "nothing to do", especially if it coincides with an increase in overall population in an agricultural society, where only one son can inherit the father's farmland.

It's possible that this effect kicked in a few times in Europe's middle ages, as well as in China today.

Paul H. Rubin

Professors Becker and Posner see little social cost to a society with substantially more males than females. Although their analysis of the private costs to individuals is correct, I think they are missing some potentially serious external costs. In particular, in such societies there will ultimately be large numbers of unmarried males. These males are likely to be a source of political unrest. It may be that such gender imbalances are incompatible with a peaceful democracy. I make this point in my book, Darwinian Politics: the Evolutionary Origin of Freedom (Rutgers Press, 2002) and it is made more forcefully in Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia's Surplus Male Population by Valerie M. Hudson and Andrea M. DenBoer (MIT Press, 2005).


I think Becker and Judge P hit the nail on the head. The natural forces of sexual supply and demand would correct any gender imbalances before they could become a real problem. (As a young man, I can say that there is plenty of "demand" for sex, and I have great faith in other young men's ability to find a "supply," regardless of the circumstances.)


Dr. Posner is considerably more "liberal" towards polygamny and sexual imbalance then he is in his masterful book Sex and Reason. Amoung bad consequences that could result from an sexual imbalance, according to Posner himself, are prostitution, poor marriages (because 1. the age gap between Men and women will increase and 2. Men will need to "guard" their women more), increase in rape and sexual abuse of teenagers (as substitutes to regular sex). And this is before we have talked about the inequality problem - is it really fair to have inequality in the distribution of women?

Women might not even benefit from the result of their scarcity. To the extent that such a society is patriarchial, it is quite possible that women would be "sold off", and that most, if not all, of the benefit would come to the parents.

Of course, if the benefit would be to the women and not to the parents, the parents would have no incentive to change their behaviour. R. A Fisher's study is deceptive in that sense. Because the interests of the parents and of daughters may and probably will differ.

Terry Bennett

What a great irony that the culture which gave the world the yin-yang symbol, 2 equal halves each containing the essence of the other, has been such a men's club for all this time. Buddha himself posited that the best a woman could achieve in her lifetime was to die and be reborn as a man, whence she/he could proceed to nirvana.

The great value of the amnio killer app is that it will ultimately expose the non-validity, or at least the non-viability, of the cultural assumptions on which the affected countries operate. They have been coasting along for millenia on the backs of women, and I'm looking forward to seeing them clobbered by reality in a generation or so.

Unfortunately, I agree that they will not go down without a fight (not against the United States, but rather against their loss of slave utility), and in the short term the "solution" to preserving male domination will undoubtedly involve ratcheting up the suppression of women.

On the up side, at least this is one world problem that cannot be called the U.S.'s fault.


I think that Judge Posner ignores the elephant in the room: that certain societal traditions are "sexist" in that they favor the birth of male children over female children. The technology allowing parents to select for sex, combined with those prejudices, can skew the population. It is a sensible argument that a roughly 1:1 ratio of men to women is desirable, from an overall societal standpoint. After all, it is better to give everyone (and most people are heterosexual) the opportunity to find a mate.

Our libertarian instincts might make it seem quite intrusive for the state to ban sex selection. That seems, really, to be a private choice, much like the choice to have a child in the first place. But if private choices are not truly free, because of historical, societal prejudices, there is an argument for the state to intervene. So I find this question to pose an interesting dilemma.

I don't find Posner's analysis of the reasons for and effects of sex selection particularly persuasive, because it is based on suppositions. The actual birth ratio in China is a more persuasive statistic, which underscores the problem. And, I understand state efforts to remedy the situation.
Hopefully, sexism will largely disappear over time, rendering this issue moot. But now, it is a real and interesting problem.

Matt Howard

A key assumption that might be more thoroughly poked at in this discussion is: Does encouraging abortion (based on sex of child, or other factors) increase the "wantedness" of babies by parents?

For example, parents of children born with disabilities may have otherwise chosen to abort their fetus had they known their child would not be born fully able. But speaking with parents of a child with disabilities, how many would admit to wanting or loving their child less? My sense is that there may be a bit of hindsight bias here--but regardless, wantedness may not be as fixed a concept as is laid out here in this discussion.


In addition to seconding Prof. Rubin's analysis, I would emphasize the "reciprocal nature" of the problem of sex-selected abortions. On the one hand, if we condemn such abortions we restrict the choices of families and parents, but if we impose no restrictions on sex-selected abortions, we may encourage sexist values (at least in the short- to medium-term, before the imbalance of males to females is corrected).

So the real question is, which value is more important: liberty or the eradication of sexism. If Posner and Becker are correct in asserting that an male-to-female imbalance will be corrected as families start to have more girls relative to boys, then one positive side-effect of allowing liberty to trump sexism is that sexism loses in the end.

Prof. F.E. Guerra-Pujol


What about the externality of the decision on the next generation? All the parents of generation 1 are happy with their boys. But generation 2, particularly the boys of that generation, may be greatly harmed. How's this for a question? Would you want the right to select the sex of your children if that meant that they (or even you for that matter if this were theoretically being asked of the unborn children in advance of their birth) had a 15% reduction in the likelihood of getting married due to a skewed sex ratio? Especially interesting is the notion of asking that with the veil of ignorance. The currently unborn could choose to give the selection right to their parents and themselves if they were willing to take the risk of not getting married. Personally, I would rather be married and have children of any sex than risk living in a society with all these extra unmarried males.

Not that it matters (I think), but I'm male and I have 3 daughters.

Ross Tucker

Valerie Hudson and Andrea M. Den Boer have written on the security implications of the gender gap in China (see Hudson and Den Boer 2005, Bare Branches: Security Implications of Asia's Surplus Male Population). One of their arguments is that countries with disproportionately male countries will have more aggressive foreign policies as the country employs more and more men in the military. Such theories would suggest that there should be restrictions on parents' ability to choose their children's gender.

(See http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=9963.)


Here is an interesting thought:

If (as Posner suggests in his Sex book) a society imbalanced toward men would provoke men to seek "substitutes" for marital sex, then there is likely to be more homosexual sex. (A known effect in many all male environments, i.e. prison.)

There will still be a need to form family units for financial and social stability, childrearing, and efficient pooling of diverse resources and talents.

So, the case for same-sex marriage will become even more compelling than it is now.

That ought to get all the strict religious conservatives behind limits on sex selection. If there are no women around, your sons might be gay. :)


Ahh, the "Brave New World". Are we living in a time when Science Fiction has become science fact and a harbinger of the future? With the shades of "1984" on the horizon? Personally, I prefer the French take on the subject, "Viva la Difference!" Or as someone else has observed, "it's not nice to fool Mother Nature!"

Doug Stewart

In China the shortage of women has had little benefit to them. Although their 'market value' has risen, since they are essentially seen as possessions, they do no benefit from this. It is much like a cow when the price of milk goes up; the farmer may be somewhat more careful to ensure that the cow is healthy, but otherwise little of the additional value is realised by the cow. Similarily, the shortage of women will put their fathers in a better position in terms of bride-price, and will benefit the husbands in terms of increased status, but little of this will be of benefit to the women, who are largely chattels. The issue is that the women are not free, so they cannot negotiate for their own benefit based on their changed market value.

Furthermore, in a number of ways, the shortage of women has reduced their welll-being. One of the most noteable is the large increase in 'bride kidnapings' in China, where women are kidnaped and forced into marriage.


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