Female foeticide in India fell in the high-growth years—as per a report in The Indian Express, data from the
Sample Registration System shows that an average of around 3.3 lakh girls were missing at birth annually during 2007-12 while an average of 5.8 lakh were missing each year during 2001-06. While the neutral sex ratio at birth (SRB) seen in nature is 950 girls for every 1,000 boys, in India, SRB was an alarming 880 girls per 1,000 boys in 2003-05, but improved to 909:1,000 by
2011-13. The way India’s class composition is changing perhaps explains why the country’s SRB has improved and yet remains far from the neutral SRB, according to FE columnists Surjit S Bhalla and Ravinder Kaur.
Given household income influences its number of children and the sex composition of the brood, Bhalla and Kaur say India’s emerging middle class (EMC)—out of poverty but without middle-class incomes—influences SRB the most as it has the desire to select the sex and can also afford to do so. In the years of high growth, the Indian middle-class, which focuses on child quality more than on its sex, grew from 12.8% of the population (2004) to 30.4% in 2012. The EMC, meanwhile, rose from constituting 40.5% in the 1980s to 59% in 2004—which corresponds with the increase in sex selection in the country. The rise in middle-class numbers explains why female foeticide slowed and then reversed, while the swelling emerging middle-class numbers explain India’s SRB is still far from even near neutral. Given how rising incomes (and consequently changing class status) are contingent upon economic growth, if the EMC numbers are to fall to 32% of the population by 2025, India would need to take a pro-growth path.