Female Disadvantage 
Female Disadvantage
by Yale / Robert Wyman
Video Lecture 15 of 24
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Date Added: November 8, 2009

Lecture Description


In East and South Asia there are many more boys than girls. Previously, this resulted from female infanticide, now it is sex-selective abortion. In those cultures, girls generally marry out of the family as teenagers and thus provide no benefit for the family that raised them. Bangla Desh is agriculturally very rich, but its population is so dense that per capita income is one of the lowest in Asia. Despite the poverty, an excellent family planning program has greatly reduced fertility.



Reading assignment:


Repetto, Robert. "Second India Revisited: Population Poverty and Environmental Stress over Two Decades." World Resources Institute (June 1994), pp. 11-20



Weaver, May Anne. "Gandhi's Daughters." The New Yorker, 10 January 2000



Jehl, Douglas. "Arab Honor's Price: A Woman's Blood." The New York Times, 20 June 1999




Transcript



March 5, 2009



Professor Robert Wyman: Anybody here happen to be from Korea? Are you born there?



Student: Yes



Professor Robert Wyman: Are you from Seoul?



Student: Yeah.



Professor Robert Wyman: You may know about this, okay. There's a--do you know about the oldest tree in Seoul?



Student: No.



Professor Robert Wyman: This is the oldest tree in Seoul. It's a Gingko tree, and it's supposed to be 840 years old, that's a really old tree and it's venerated by the residents. It's kind of a holy sacred tree and they bring fruit, they bring other offerings once a year and pray, among other things, for their safety. Its real advantage is that it helps pregnant women to have a boy child and so this is a very important tree. Do you know about this tree?



Student: No.



Professor Robert Wyman: No.



Student: But I've heard about Gingko trees and how they have to do with fertility and stuff.



Professor Robert Wyman: Yes, okay Ginkgo is one of the few kinds of trees that have male and female sex. Most trees are hermaphrodite, have both male and female sex. Anyway, it turns out they ran into a problem with this tree because two apartment buildings were interfering with the trees roots as the tree spread its roots. What happens--so the district government spent $4.3 million dollars to take down the apartment buildings. So it just goes to show you the importance and the political acceptability, the cultural acceptability of son preference. It's a very, very big factor in the world.



The sex ratio, is a very important biological factor, if we have time at the end I'll tell you a good bit about it. Just to show you that it's very well controlled biologically, this is one of several theories about how the sex ratio in humans gets to be what it is. The sperms are 50/50. There's 100 male sperms to 100 female sperms and that's because the sex is determined by the father and the father has one X and one Y, and when they split to go into separate sperms one gets an X, one gets a Y, that's even. By the second month of gestation, so this is still in the mother's womb, apparently a huge fraction of about one-third of the male fetuses have died, leaving--I'm sorry the female fetuses have died because now it's a high male ratio.



Then as time goes on the male fetuses start to die and when you end up, you get 106 at birth all over the world unless people are messing with it. There's about 106 male births to every 100 female births. This is a very, very fixed number, so for instance, in the United States in 1969 there were 105.3 males born per 100 females; 1995 30 something years later 104.9, so difference of .4. That number really does not vary except basically between 105 and 106. It's a very, very stable number.



Given that, you can look at some parts of the world and see something like this. This is again the sex ratio and you can look over time, 1972 to 1992 a 20 year span and here is Japan where they started a little bit of X--here's the numbers you should expect, somewhere in this range. They have somewhat of an excess of boys but very minor and than during this period of time Japan came down to almost exactly that 106 number. Look at what's going on in China, up to 113 or so, which means basically seven out of every 100 girls are being done away with 7%. That's not anywhere near the worst case. What do you think is the cause of this?



Student: Mitochondrial DNA.



Professor Robert Wyman: Mitochondrial DNA?



Student: [Inaudible] mitochondrial DNA can choose to eliminate male fetuses.



Professor Robert Wyman: So you think it's a very long term evolutionary--what she's saying is she thinks--there's stuff that--the Y--the sperm--the Y chromosome has very few genes, the X chromosome has many genes. There looks like there's a long evolutionary process by which genes are getting eliminated on the Y, and eventually the Y will then have nothing on it and disappear. This is much too short a time, we're talking ten years, evolution just doesn't happen in ten years but it's a good thought.



Student: Does it have something to do with the implementation of the one child policy; people wanting sons as opposed to daughters.



Professor Robert Wyman: Very good. This is the most usual answer: the one child policy in China. This is China remember and the one child policy, so people have heard of the one child policy and I'm going to give a lecture on it. Does that sound like a good hypothesis to you? But just saying it doesn't make it true, so what else did--



Student: This is at birth.



Professor Robert Wyman: This is at birth.



Student: How could you--even if you wanted sons I presume that the greatest way to manage that would through infanticide and you can't do that until after birth.



Professor Robert Wyman: Very good idea. What she says is look this is at birth.



Students: [Inaudible]



Professor Robert Wyman: Good, I'm glad all this discussion. Let's notice one other thing. One child policy, when does the one child policy start? We'll come back to these explanations; they're all good. Anybody know? Guess what, about 1979, 1980. When does this take off? That looks like now we've got at least a second piece of evidence that it's--the time sequence fits very nicely with the one child policy. How can we check that? We're still--we have to be very skeptical about everything that anyone tells you; that's the scientific attitude. Anything anybody tells you, politics, science, religion, economics, try to sell you something, immediate gut response is 'that's nonsense prove it to me.' I'm not convinced yet so what else might you do?



Student: If you can find data on abortions.



Professor Robert Wyman: You could find data on abortions, good. We'll look at that when we talk about China. We might look at other countries that don't have the one child policy. Here's another country, this is India, and you have--remember the Chinese--and this is a somewhat different data set. This is not at birth but the total population which is less extreme, but a comparable number for China would be here, so India is more extreme than China.



Student: India is a bad example because bride prices are so high that they [Inaudible]



Professor Robert Wyman: There are reasons, other reasons in India, there's clearly reasons all around and they may be different in different places but the main hypothesis that we are working on it and come back to it, it's very important. The main hypothesis that we're working on is that it's one child policy in China. Now we see that China is not particularly extreme say compared to India. It depends on what year you look and exactly what statistic you look at. It's really in the same ballpark with India. Now we have to say that well, it's probably not one child policy. What's our next hypothesis? We've heard a different one for China. India has bride price but than if you start with India and say that, China doesn't have bride price; they have dowry, they may have in fact the opposite. What about--



Student: Is it sex selective abortion?



Professor Robert Wyman: That's something, but why are the women doing it? Poverty, that's the usual thing when you speak of India and China. In these years they were still very--they're still quite poor but it was poverty. How does that strike you as a hypothesis for this? Or part of it, these things are multi-causal.



Student: China's economy has been taking off but it's the--ratios are still going up.



Professor Robert Wyman: Well the only--I'm going to show you that data but I only showed you the data up to 1990, 1992 so I haven't--I'm going to show you that. Again we can go to an international comparison if we want to see if poverty is at the root of this, and what are we looking at here? Korea, South Korea. Korea is not a poor country and yet they're just as bad, in fact a little bit more extreme than China at this time. We really have quite a conundrum that we can give particular explanations for each place but they're maybe going to be different.



Student: Is it maybe just population growth in general?



Professor Robert Wyman: It could be population growth in general, that's certainly true of all of the three countries. That there's something about the density of population; hard to prove since India and China have been very crowded for a very long time and Korea is also crowded but not as extremely as China and India. Not--the greatest sex ratio is in South Korea, which is, as you heard, is not poor and by 2010 there will be a 20% deficit in the marriage age, there will be a 20% deficit of females in Korea which is quite high and that's done away with. The poverty thing, the economic thing does not work between countries, and even if you look, I'll show you a little bit later, there's big regional variations within each country but it doesn't go with economics at all.



In China, in Guangdong, where everything you're wearing and everything you play with, including probably this is made somewhere in Guangdong Province probably. It's one of the richer places in China and the sex ratio there is 130 to 100, something I've showed you 12 to 14, in that province it goes up to 130 and parts of that province--so of course even within a province there's different places, they can go up to 144 to 100, so something like a third of the girls are done away with.



Student: Provinces with such a skewed sex ratio, do they end up paying dowry or these bride prices because females are so rare?



Professor Robert Wyman: No bride price doesn't happen in either China or India; bride price, you remember, is when the man's family gives something to the girl or the girl's family, dowry is the opposite and dowry is common in India and really it was--communists got rid of it, any vestige of that in China so that's not the case. In India the same thing, the states in New Delhi and Haryana, which are the richer places there, have more extreme sex ratios then poor places. There's--in Delhi there's 861 females per 1,000 males at birth and so as time goes on, as you see, the sex ratios are getting worse. The answer to our problem of what is causing--what caused things to change at this point in time is what someone here said. What did someone say, something that would have--it wasn't the--is the one child policy happened at this time but something else happened in both India, and China, and Korea.



Student: Did it have to do with technology in terms of--



Professor Robert Wyman: It has to do with technology.



Student: for sex selection prior to birth.



Professor Robert Wyman: For knowing the sex before birth and what--



Student: [Inaudible]



Professor Robert Wyman: What is the technology that's commonly used?



Student: Ultrasound.



Professor Robert Wyman: Ultrasound, that at that time ultrasound came in and became rather inexpensive and available. The two ways of doing it are amniocentesis, which is somewhat difficult medically and quite expensive, but ultrasound you don't need an awful lot of training, the equipment is not terribly expensive. It costs I think about $14 in India, in this period of time, to get an ultrasound test of what your fetus was.



In one of the counties in China, for instance, they started doing ultrasound, and what happened was the first child, and I'll show you some data, that was okay if it was a girl. But, if the second--if they had a first girl and the second child was also a girl, then 92% of the time the girls would be aborted. I think in your reading it talks about in India--they looked at 8,000 serial abortions in a particular hospital and 7,999 were females. One was a male and that was probably a mistake they just read--didn't read the ultrasound right, it's not always easy to do it.



What's happening is that, in India and in China it's illegal in both places, but they have even sidewalk clinics that you can just go and get a little ultrasound. How many of you have had some sort of ultrasound? Yeah it's very--they take a little probe about that long and this and just run it over you and get a picture on a TV screen and you know, whatever, your heart, or your lungs, or your baby, whatever is going on. That's what's going on, it's the cheap ultrasound. Doctors in a lot of places--doctors--it's so fast to do this, it's so cheap, it doesn't take much skill, that in a lot of places doctors are just giving up all the rest of their practice and just doing ultrasound. It's sort of like liposuction here or something. It's easy and cheap and they make a lot of women--a lot of money with this.



The head of the Women's Association in India says, "No one wants girls; if the test says a girl then the pregnant woman will have an abortion." Someone else also mentioned this I think, that the final sex ratio not at birth as we said, the hint as one of you picked out, the fact that this is at birth means it's not an infanticide issue. This is something done before birth, the only thing you can do before birth is sex selective abortion so it's clearly the mechanism of this and the timing is clearly the introduction of ultrasound.



The total sex ratio of the countries hasn't changed all that much. Then, in China we have pretty good data and traditionally where-ever one has data there has been a dearth of about 10% to 25% of girls from--they have data back to the 1700s, that's pretty decent. Back then it was infanticide so what you're really seeing is a change of method that the society is going from an infanticide control of the sex ratio to an ultrasound and sex selective abortion control of the sex ratio. Apparently the desire and the cultural desire for males hasn't changed all that much, but technology has changed what they do and to most people's mind--an abortion is a better thing than an infanticide but you can make up your own mind about that.



Let me give you some more data on the various questions that you've all asked. One is an update in time so that particular slide stopped in--in that particular data set stopped in 1992 and this picks up a little bit later. Here is again India, five states there, and in the most extreme states, which again are the richest not the poorest. This is of course--these are rich states, this is southern states, there are all these different reasons and we'll come to that in a moment. Here we saw ratios of 114 or so and now they've gone up to 129 and slowly getting better, a little bit better with time out to the last census in 2006 data.



These are two well off provinces and they are in extreme southern India is--in North India they speak Hindi--mostly Hindi related languages, in the south Dravidian related languages. The Muslim invasions didn't quite reach the south of India, a lot of differences between north and south India. In terms of demography or a culture, almost anything, it's crazy to talk about India. You cannot talk about India; it's so diverse. China, they've convinced the people that they're one culture, but in India that's not the case. So you really have to compare this as a kind of--these two states as one kind of country and they are very close to the 106 level.



This is--and also, just weirdly in most places, it's the number of boys to girls, but in India the way they define sex ratio is the opposite so I've translated into these--these are the numbers that are comparable to what you've been hearing. That's India. Here is China, and again it has gone more extreme, so we stopped here about 1992 in the 112 range. This is at birth, age zero, so we're looking at this line that's here, and that has now gone up to 118 or 119, the sex ratio at birth, and then as the child grows older, as the set of children that you're counting grows older, the sex ratio gets more and more skewed as time goes on and we'll look at that in a little bit.



It is very diverse. I mentioned this, very diverse by province, here again is India, so Kerala as I mentioned to you, they're very poor, Kerala is a very poor state in India, one of the poorest, but they had a communist government for a long time and very matriarchal, their traditional system was--not matriarchal, matrilineal so women have more power. For a lot of reasons Kerala has been doing very well on social--indicators of social progress and look at it's--this is child mortality from zero to five through the first five years here. Males 6 per 1,000 male death; 4.5 females, very low deaths; compare that to Bihar [Madhya Pradesh], a very poor state where 50 or 60, up to 70 almost deaths. It's a factor of 10 or 15 for females, the difference between different states in India and the same thing in China.



Here is--what I wanted to show you about that slide was--well forget it for a minute. This is China and you have again very different--this is sex ratio at birth, SRB, sex ratio at birth and over different periods of time 1982, 1990 and so forth--notice in between the green which is a normal ratio, even bias toward females, this is almost within the normal range. This would be bias toward females and Tibet, the far western provinces are even normal or even bias toward females and that is a cultural difference because these are Muslim provinces and the Koran forbids the killing of daughters, so Muslim countries in general do not have these very skewed sex ratios. Tibet of course is Buddhist and they also don't do this, but in the Han regions, the heartland of China, especially around 2000, 2005 a very high ratio 120 to 138 and is changing a little bit slowly, so as time goes on you see they go from the 112 that we talked about, the blue regions they are being--disappearing and you're getting a more extreme situation here in China. Again you can pick out; depending on if you look at more culturally homogenous regions, you get either very low numbers or very high numbers.



Now here's another thing which I mentioned, it depends terribly much on parity, how many children they already have. For a first birth, this is China, and going out to the year 2000 and this is the--this is parity here and this is the different censuses so the latest census 2005 I think is this census here and for first birth it's 107--it's pretty normal, a little bit elevated but by second birth it goes enormously up and you're into like 140 or a prior census 150, so a 50% difference in boys and girls, and that extreme there is the one child policy is pushing that because they're only allowed--we'll talk a lot about that.



This is not really true anymore but in principle they're allowed only one child, so you get these very high ratios here and then by three children, four or five children, the sex ratio is enormous. You may sort of have a little thing in your mind, wait a minute one child policy, and here they're having one child, they're have two children, they're having three children, they're having four children, they're having five children, what's going on and we're going to talk about that.



Here is--and again you don't want to nail this too hard to the one child policy because here is South Korea and again this is all old-time but look what it goes up to, the same thing. You look at the most recent numbers on this graph and for first birth it's quite a normal ratio, second birth it gets bigger, by third birth it's bigger than anything we see in China, and by fourth birth its way, way up, over 237. We saw about 160 or something in China on the previous slide. Again, Korea, no one child policy, no government control of fertility at all, and yet they are more extreme than China.



At birth, the genetic factor--boys have an X and a Y chromosome, and girls have two Xs. Humans, as well as every other animal, carry a lot of deleterious or even lethal mutations, but you have them on only one chromosome. The other chromosome will have--in general will have a normal copy of the gene and for almost every gene one normal chromosome makes enough of the proper protein, and you're alive, you're fine, you don't even notice that you've got this deleterious mutation there. It's only when you get a mutation from both parents that it becomes--it's homozygous, you're getting the deleterious mutation with both parents, than the person is sick.



That works for all the chromosomes except for the sex chromosome. A female has two Xs so this still holds for her. She's got to be really unlucky and get bad copies from both mother and father. A male has one X and the Y with almost nothing on it, so if he gets a bad X he's sick; so males are weaker. One of the thoughts about why 106 males are born for every 100 females is that as time goes on those males die during childhood because they are genetically weaker and eventually it evens out to 100. There's good evolutionary reasons why evolution pushes a sexually reproducing species to 100 males and 100 females and we can go into that later perhaps.



You're seeing that--this is at birth, right around birth which is still genetic reasons, and this is all of India. You see that now the male deaths are higher than the females. This is a sign of the genetic weakness of males at birth. When you break that down by state, every single state 54:40, there's more male deaths 71:68, so what do we have--one of the Punjab which had a high pro-male ratio but at birth there's more male death than female death, so that's a biological phenomenon; that continues.



If you look later to child mortality, now we're done with the birth mortality, we're done with sex selective abortion, that the sex selective abortion itself changes the sex ratio but then, even after that, the sex ratio keeps changing. Here again is in the first five years after birth and notice again in Kerala where they don't have this sex selective--this sex choice and I showed you this, more males die than females. That's again the normal biological issue, but in every other state, females are--this is two and a half times as much, this is four times as much female mortality, one and a half times as much, more than twice as much, twice as much, half again as much. Then, in all the states of India, with the exception of Kerala, there's an excess female mortality after birth.



That's counter-biological, and what that is, is basically some infanticide, but largely female neglect. They get less food, they get less good food, they get sick, they get taken to the doctor less often, if medicines are required they don't get it very well. So you see this after birth reduction in females also. The problem just keeps happening.



This issue of the loss of females in a population is a very large phenomenon. Statistics--well from this data you can make fairly decent statistics for places where this is collected, so in India alone, there's supposed to be something like 23 million women missing, so add all this up and you get 23 million. In the world the--somewhere between an estimate and a guesstimate is 100 million missing women. You could say when you look deeper, more deeply, we have the sort of the proximate cause, people are using sex selective abortion but we haven't touched much on the question of why do they want to do that.



You can just say it's traditional. And I hear a lot of discussions that say that and this is true. In India's first national census, which is 1871, there were 98 million males but only 91.5 million females, already 6% of the females were missing. Whereas, in a population which doesn't discriminate against females, males being weaker all during the ages, there get to be more and more females and with the older ages extreme excess of females, but in India already in 1871 there was quite a difference.



In China--this is a Chinese book of travels from the nineteenth century and someone--a Chinese person went to India--went to England and observed things and came back and wrote a travel book for the Chinese and this is a quote from that: "England is so short of inhabitants that the English rear every child that is born. Even prostitutes who bear children do not destroy them." England was the dominant power of the world and they were invading China with the Opium Wars, so of course everybody including the Emperor was interested in what is England like, how come they're so powerful, what's different there, and so the Emperor read this and the Emperor's response was, he didn't believe that the English were so stupid. Again, the cultural thing that to raise up all the children, and especially to raise up all the girls, is just not going.



In your reading packet, it discusses villages in India dating back to 1830 that have no girls at all. They just do away with all the girls, all of them are killed. 1921, Somerset Maugham, does that name ring any bells? He was a famous author, wrote a lot of novels, a lot of movies with very famous movie stars, a very popular author. In 1921 he was touring China and he came upon a little tower on a Chinese hillside with a single small hole in the wall, so they're walking along and there's a small tower with a little hole in the wall. Out of that hole came a nauseating odor and he asked--he was with a Chinese guide and he asked him what is that, and he thought maybe feces were dumped there or something.



No, it turns out it was a baby tower and it was just a pit dug into the ground and surrounded with this tower and people brought excess girls especially, but some occasionally boys and just dumped them into this. A little boy came up and explained this to him and said that--the little boy said that four babies were thrown in that morning. This doesn't--this particular passage didn't discuss the sex of the babies because he didn't know that, they're already in there. One of the quotes is, "The female child is regarded as a liability here. In rural areas women are not even considered people."



You'll do some reading where, rather biased reading but accurate on this, that girls often don't get names traditionally, their named 'daughter number one,' 'daughter number two,' 'daughter number three,' and all kinds of things. As I've mentioned the elimination of females is not limited to the young and in one of your readings--I guess I described it to you, a tribe in New Guinea where if a male died his widow was immediately strangled. Do you remember that? That changes the sex ratio. In India, you've all heard about this, they're used to be a variant to this practice called sati. You heard of sati or sutee, sometime where the wife throws herself on the funeral pyre of the man or in some other way does away with herself.



This is from 1813, quite some time back, and there was a British captain named Kemp who was eyewitness to one of these things and he wrote a description of it. " A male had been sick a short time. An astrologer said that he was on the point of death and so he was taken down to the side of the holy Ganges River to expire. He was immersed to his waist in the river for some time, but he didn't die. They brought him back to the bank of the river and let him broil in the sun; he didn't die. Then they put him back in the river again, and he didn't die. He was returned to the bank."



This kept going for 36 hours alternating sort of freezing and baking and finally this sick guy died. Whether he would, or would not, have died anyway, who knows. It was the astrologer's word that he was going to die. His wife, he was married, was a healthy young girl of about 16. Learning of her husband's death she decided to be buried alive with his corpse. The British officer, this Kemp, tried in vain to persuade the girl not to do it, then tried to persuade the mother, and he said that a resolution of this type to just kill yourself was a kind of madness. He had no success and he encountered not the slightest sign of either hesitation or a great regret on either the girl's part or the mother's part.



The actual scene takes place; the young widow accompanied by her friends proceeded to the beach where his body lay. He was placed in a grave about six feet deep, the wife circled the grave seven times calling out, "Hail God, Hail God." the surrounding crowd echoed her chant, 'Hail God, Hail God.' She climbed into the grave, the captain, this British guy moved up to within a foot of the grave to see if at the last minute she showed any signs of reluctance or whether her relatives showed any sign of horror, and if she showed reluctance he might have jumped in and pulled her out. She placed herself in a sitting posture, as her husband had been placed, didn't lay him flat but a sitting posture, both faced north, so she was sitting behind his back. She embraced the corpse with her left hand and reclined her head on his shoulder.



The British officer still saw no sign of regret on her part. The other plan--the other hand she placed over her head with her forefinger erect which she moved in a circular direction. The watchers then started throwing earth on them to start burying them and then other men, as the earth was put in, they stamped on the earth to pack it down but she continued circling her hand until her head was completely buried and then she kept going for some time after that and finally stopped. The earth was piled on and stamped down and was two or three feet above the heads of the entombed. No tear was shed by any of the relations. Eventually the crowd disbursed and the ritual lamentations and howling commenced but without sorrow.



This is a long time ago and it's certainly extremely rare now, if it happens at all. There was one report of one woman in a village about ten years ago who did it, and this is illegal in India, so very hard to get any decent statistics, but very rarely it happens and this woman who killed herself on her husband's pyre was considered a paragon of virtue and sort of like a saint because she was following the old religious customs and the village was happy about it because they got a lot of tourists to come and revere this saint like lady and made a lot of money off the tourists, but it's very rare.



Of course this whole sex preference business is not in any sense limited to Asia. Hispanic women in Los Angeles were surveyed, they want 2.8 sons on average and 0.1 daughters, a factor of 28 difference. In Kuwait before the Gulf War, this is the 1991 war I think, Barbara Walters who you all know, did a story on gender roles in Kuwait. Yes, during the Gulf War she was there, and she noted that women customarily walked about ten feet behind their husbands and this happens in a lot of places, and a strong sign of female deference and dependence. The husband walks without the wife and the wife follows ten feet behind, you've heard of that custom.



The war takes place, the Iraqi's get beaten, she comes back to Kuwait to do another story after the war, and she was so pleased because now the men walked behind the wives, that the women were walking in front, and so Barbara Walters said this is wonderful progress, this is the American--they're catching on over there and so she approached one of the women and said--and the camera was rolling to catch this, she's a TV personality, "this is marvelous," says Barbara Walters, "can you tell the free world just what enabled women to achieve this reversal of roles?" The Kuwaiti woman said, "Land mines." And so it wasn't a reversal at all.



I think you get the idea of all of this. We--there's deeper reasons, I mean again one way is to put it down to Asian tradition and that's not really any kind of an explanation. We like to think that people are rational around the world and that there's some more fundamental reason for it. A lot of the reasons that you all said, what are some of the extra reasons that I sort of pushed aside for the moment? One was dowry issues and some of you said some other things, but there's a whole lot of things, and the basic story is that in--certainly in India and also in traditional China the girl is brought up by the parents, gets married at quite a young age, and by young teenage they get married and get shipped off to the son--the husband's family where she works is then counted in that family and is worked--usually works very hard and basically is a servant in that family.



The family that raises her has the problem of investing in that girl, putting a lot of money to raise that girl, then, just as she's able to start working seriously and maybe return some labor, some serious labor or some money to the parents, she's gone and she works for some other family. This is economically a very bad thing and the people call raising girls like watering someone else's garden. Then on top of that when the dowry system is strong, which it is in India, and going crazy, then at marriage they have to provide a lot of money and this can go up to be like a year's income, easily, to get the girl married, and it's a great honor thing. If you have a daughter you have to get her married, so you have to pay dowry or your family's honor goes away. This idea, that the girl is just passed away just at the time she can be of value to you, is kind of the rational actor theory of why there's all this female discrimination. Anything strike you unexplained about that? Why is that--



Student: It's the girl.



Professor Robert Wyman: It's the girl that goes away all the time. Why can't the man go away? This is, by the way, characteristic of human societies. I may have mentioned this to you, the genetics shows that males in a village are related, they've stayed there for hundreds or thousands of years, and females move out, so exogamy. Where have you seen exogamy before? Among the chimpanzees where the females go out; and so as far as we can tell this is a vestige from our very original biological roots where our reproductive system requires not that the males fight each other and the males disburse but that the males stay together in a military situation and the females go out.



It's this very basic form of--you can call it chimpanzee social organization that leads to that. The females go out and therefore the females are of no value to the family that brings them up and therefore they're discriminated against. The men stay together and they have to have a protective--protect the village against violence.



In some places there's a--either a tribe or a caste as you'll call it in India, the Nayar, which are very military kind of cast. What happens is they get married very young, but then the man may, or may not, spend one night with the wife and then he goes off to the military, and meanwhile, the wife has all kinds of sexual relationships and its quite formalized, quite legal, the women live in one big house, they don't really recognize--it's like the Na that you read about, it's a female lineage society, and then upper class men are invited in to sleep with these women and produce babies for them, and then the men have 15 or 20 years of military service. Then they come home, and only really at that time, do they pick up the marriage.



Again it's a very clear--in this particular cultural manifestation, it's a very clear thing that women are the reproducers, men are the military ones, and, as in chimpanzees, sort of a communal sexuality that who's the biological father is not particularly important.



Now, I want to switch gears here in the time we have left, and this whole lecture is about South Asia, and South Asia and East Asia are the centers of female disadvantage, but that doesn't go on in all of South Asia. As I've mentioned, in Muslim countries that basically does not happen. We're going to talk next about two places; one is Iowa and the other I'll tell you in a moment. Iowa is a rich place, right? What is Iowa rich from? Agriculture, corn, it's a very, very fertile place.



Well let me go back a little bit, so I will tell you the country that I'm going to talk about if I can find it. Again we worry a lot and have induced some of the Asians to worry about the sex ratio, that all these men won't get married, but remember we're seeing sex ratio disturbances of 12% to 20%, and remember in Europe I showed you this slide that a lot of places only 30%, or 40% or 50% of people got married, so the marriage imbalance is much--was much more severe in Europe for hundreds of years than it is now in Asia. The marriage pattern and the social system in Europe made for a more extreme situation than the female disadvantage in Asia.



This not a great slide but this is Bangladesh and what's in Bangladesh is this the Himalaya mountains and here's China, and Nepal, Bangladesh over here, India over here, and this is blown up a little bit and what you see is this is the Bay of Bengal. Here is the Ganges River comes out of the Himalayas. The Himalayas stretch all across here, the Ganges comes out of the western Himalayas, the Brahmaputra comes out of the eastern Himalayas, Bangladesh has lots of water and this is all delta. You see this stuff, this is all delta from--through geological time as the river wanders around it puts down a delta out here.



This is what the delta actually looks like. There's a reading that you have which says that the place is so bad that people are trying to move out onto this land and try to farm on it, and then of course a monsoon comes so the river--the water rises and they're wiped out. You'll have a reading about that, so keep this picture in mind when you do that reading.



Now let's do the story on agriculture. The people in Bangladesh are Bengali's of course and the Bengali's are a large group that are split actually between Bangladesh and eastern--northeastern part of India, Calcutta is the capital, Dhaka is the capital in Bangladesh, and Calcutta is the capital of West Bengal which is part of India, so partition split Bengali's into two groups. Bangladesh is a very homogenous country between Pakistan, India and Bangladesh the three ones are the old British Raj. 98% of them are Bengali's so they speak the same language, have the same cultural tradition and 88% are Muslim.



Unlike India, which you cannot talk about as a whole, you can really talk about Bangladesh as a whole. Bengal is a very rich part of the world, the Moguls who ruled from the thirteenth--so the Moguls were Muslim invaders from--apparently I think from Afghanistan, conquered north India north of that part, and they ruled it from the thirteenth century onward. They called Bengal the paradise of nations. In the sixteenth century when European traders came they were ecstatic over Bengal's abundance and riches. Why was it so rich?



I want to compare it to Iowa. The size of Bangladesh is 56,000 square miles. Guess what the size of Iowa is? 56,000 square miles, so they're very close to the same size, both are very basically agricultural. Maytag makes washing machines, or used to, in Iowa, but they're very heavily agricultural, but Bangladesh has much better climate than Iowa. They grow three crops a year in Bangladesh. It's nice and warm there all the time, but poor Iowa, anybody from Iowa here? They can only grow one crop a year and they grow winter wheat some, but basically it's one crop a year. Bengal they can grow three crops a year.



Bangladesh has plenty of water, I showed you, they have nothing but water there so they never have droughts, and Iowa is not bad for that. It has the Mississippi River on one side, the Nebraska River on the other side, but inside Iowa the rivers are all very small, so if you go to the edges there's rivers but inside not a huge amount of rivers and they sometimes have droughts there.



Both are fertile; Bangladesh shows a low alluvial plain so the way land gets naturally fertilized is water rushing--glaciers on the mountaintop grind the rock and that glacier flour, as it's called, gets into the river, dissolves somewhat in the river, and during flood season it spreads all this silt over the farmland and that silt--the minerals in the rock are the fertilizer. Bangladesh has this--these floods from the Himalayas that cover basically the whole country and it gets it fertilizer for free, it gets as lot of fertilizer and it gets it all for free, so again the agriculture is looking real good. Iowa does not get this except at the margins when the Mississippi floods and sometimes the Nebraska floods, so the interior of the country they have to go and buy fertilizer there.



By all these geographical kinds of considerations and climatic kind of considerations, Bangladesh should be much richer than Iowa. You compare three crops a year to one crop and something like three times as rich. Bangladesh's per capita income--Iowa's income is 17 times larger than Bangladesh's and the difference is basically all population. Iowa's population is 2.9 million; Bangladesh is now about 140 million, so it's like 40 times difference. Bangladesh has 40 times as much population as Iowa.



Compared to every other place in the world, here are a variety of places, here's Bangladesh way, way out in front of everybody else. Netherlands is considered of--other places--the next most crowded place and it's also an agricultural place, but--both of these--they don't have big mountains or deserts or anything, so all of the Netherlands is basically fertile and all of Bangladesh is basically fertile, but look at the difference in population density and everybody else is less than either of those two places.



As you know, as I've just mentioned, the income in Bangladesh is distressingly poor, it's one of the poorest countries in the world, and the estimates are that its population may double before, if and when stabilizing. It's going to be very hard to make things better in Bangladesh. Well going back, Bangladesh had a stable population, they had a kind of traditional birth, very high birth, very high death rates so the population grew very slowly if at all, but about 1880 population started to take off, that's when again colonialism and what not--the death rate started to decline and they started adding about three million people every decade.



What do three million extra people do in a country the size of Iowa? Not tiny but not especially big either, well there's some jungle--there was some jungle in Bangladesh, they cleared that and they started farming but by the late 1930s the jungle was just totally gone, no more jungle land. In 1938, Biren Ganguli, a Bengali himself, wrote "Every inch of land that is fit for cultivation is already used. Every pathway or cattle track is pared down by farmers on either side until he barely leaves room for two people to pass each other on this narrow track."



What did people do as the population kept increasing? They started moving out onto these mud flats that I've shown you that are very temporary. The cyclones come in, not only is there the normal flooding from the rivers, but the cyclones come in and you start getting these enormous death tolls in a period of time in Bangladesh from climatic problems, but it was really, again, a population problem, just like the deserts that I told you about. People shouldn't be living on these flats where they're going to be wiped out periodically. There was, for a while, almost 100,000 deaths a year from storms, erosion and flooding from these kind of--just consider deaths from climatic water stuff.



It took about 60 years of the population increase for Bengal, becoming one of the--to go from one of the rich places of the world, not industrialized, but rich on their agricultural produce to what was standardly described as a basket case. Now all the focus is on Africa, but, not so long ago, Bangladesh was considered in just as bad shape as Africa is now. It was constantly on the news, stories of disaster in Bangladesh and you're supposed to cry at that and give money.



Bangladesh was clearly one of those places that was caught in one of these Malthusian traps. The arable land and this is a somewhat old figure in the population has increased a lot, is 0.1 hectare per person, that's a quarter of an acre a person. Just to compare you to that, any of you from farm places? How many of you are from farm places? Every year I always get some--do you know what--what's the size of the farms where you live? Where do you live?



Student: I live outside of Cleveland.



Professor Robert Wyman: Outside of Cleveland?



Student: Yeah.



Professor Robert Wyman: That's not one of the big farms, but do you know roughly the size of the farms?



Student: 30 acres.



Professor Robert Wyman: Thirty acres.



Student: A small one.



Professor Robert Wyman: Okay, so that's small farms, out West they can be thousands, like the real commercial farms, thousands of acres. Here's 0.1 hectare per person. I used to live in Bethany which was sort of a northwest suburb of New Haven and our house was--our part of Bethany was zoned for three acres and I didn't have to live off of it, there was just a house on that. If you had a house you had to have three acres so that was enough so that, in Bengal, Bangladesh 30 families would live on these three acres at 0.1 hectare per person.



All of the indicators in this time starting, say in the 1950s or 1960s, was that Bangladesh would not be a country in which you would--where you find a desire to limit fertility or the practice of fertility limitation. It's, as I've said, almost all Muslim and it's a conservative version of Islam there. Infant and child mortality was high, 25% of the children died before the age of five, but that had been coming down slowly as I showed you for roughly 20 years.



Women had very low social status there, most of them in--were subject to purdah, which they not only have to dress so they can't be seen when they're outside of the house, but they generally couldn't go outside of the house at all unless accompanied a male member of the family. Men were fairly free to abuse women, and I read you the first lecture I think some case of the battery acid being thrown at women in more recent time, so that still continues.



Last time I mentioned that one of the reasons that people want children is for old age security, who's going to take care of me in my old age. And, of course, Bangladesh was very poor, had no social security system, so the families were, of course, dependent on children for their old age, they were dependent on sons for their old age, so that means that you had to have a lot of children to make sure. You can't have a daughter, you've got to have sons to make sure that you have somebody to take care of you.



During the period of time I'm going to talk about here are some of the major disasters in Bangladesh over time, so this is one really very famous one, the Bengal famine of 1943. They were already on the edge, and then World War II hits and a variety of things happen and 2.5 million people die in the famine. Here's some of the cyclones, various cyclones. They had a war when they were trying to get independent of West Pakistan, they had a war and these things happened, another cyclone, floods, all of them, and so all kinds of problems beset the country.



Now during this period, that is the critical period for population issues, the per capita GDP, the gross domestic product, basically didn't change, a little bit up but not enormously up. It basically had a flat per capita economy, per capita GDP, so again, the total economy was growing but more and more people ate it all up, so basically the per capita GDP doesn't change in this period.



What happened was that Malthus had been in India and the Indian--the whole Indian subcontinent paid a lot of attention to Malthus, so they had been aware--India, Pakistan, Bangladesh had been aware of population issues and aware of the Malthusian ideas about it for a long time and the British of course trained their civil servants of the countries when they got independence it was the same people, so this was in their mind.



In fact the South Asia, originally India and Pakistan, were some of the very first countries to institute family planning programs. The one in Pakistan was not particularly successful, the one in India is now much better but did not start out successfully, but after the war of independence, when Bangladesh split from West Pakistan the government really was aware of these problems, had a Malthusian attitude and they really decided that they must start to get some control of their population. The government supported and instituted a family planning program for the whole country and international organizations said, 'OK, you want to do this, we will help you,' and especially there's a group called The International Diarrheal Research Organization which was one of the ones that had discovered and pushed the oral rehydration packets.



Many, many--huge numbers of infant deaths in poor countries due--they get diarrhea and diarrhea--the bug doesn't kill you but you lose enough water through the diarrhea that you die basically of dehydration and all you need to do is to have a little packet of water, salt and sugar and as long as the water is not terribly polluted the child will stay alive and will eventually kick out the virus or the bacterium. This International Diarrheal Research Group, are very well respected, and they said, 'okay we will also help you with family planning programs.' What resulted was a countrywide program.



Now at this same time, we're talking the early 1970s, most of the developed world had the idea that they--what did they say, they saw rich countries have few children, poor countries have a lot of children, what's the cause? Well money is the cause. When you get rich you want to have fewer children, we're going to have a lecture on that very interesting phenomenon.



A lot of developing countries and East European countries rejected the whole idea of family planning as a way of improving the economy and said, no development is the best contraceptive. That was the rule, development is the best contraceptive, that there's no way in, a poor place like Bangladesh, that you're going to get fertility down because of all these reasons that we've mentioned, but if you develop the country economically than it will naturally come down and the government doesn't have to mess with it, doesn't have to set up family planning programs.



Everybody predicted, strenuously, that Bangladesh could do what it wanted with family planning programs until and unless they developed economically there would be no progress. What they did was they--prior to this program they had tried a variety of things. In Pakistan one of the programs was, well people are culturally into having a lot of children and so we must work with their culture, and must work with traditional birth attendants. In Pakistan, including Bangladesh at the time, they had women called Daiys who are basically local health providers, herbal women, midwives for births and stuff like that, but they had basically no modern training whatsoever. In the first implementation of Pakistan's program they gave these Daiys various forms of birth control and they were supposed to give them out.



It didn't work. Why didn't it work? The Daiys themselves were older women in general who did not use contraception and did not think it was moral, did not think it worked, and had all kinds of bad attitudes toward it. So, if someone tries to sell you something, and they don't themselves believe in it, you generally don't accept it. Plus, economically, they made very little by distributing these kind of contraceptives from the government, but they could make quite a bit more by attending the births that they charge a good fee for births where the government set the little bit, they wanted to have the contraceptives very fairly free to the people, so they didn't pay the Daiys very much. The Daiys would get all the condoms especially and sort of bury them somewhere and claim to the government that they had distributed them and then made a lot of--not a lot of money, but their money from attending the births that hadn't been averted by this, so it didn't work. They learn, these are again the first countries in the world to have family planning programs and they didn't know how to do it. You have to--it's not given that this is the way you do it.



Eventually they started the program that I described to you somewhat last time where the women can't come out of the house so you hire a high status woman from that village, known to the women, has high status, is herself using contraception, thinks it's a wonderful thing, you train her how to deal not only with the woman but the woman has very little power there, to deal with the husband, to deal especially with the mother-in-law, and for that you need a high status woman that can go into a house and start discussing these things, because even talking about anything to do with sex or reproduction is not a socially acceptable thing.



They started this program and initially you got this kind of a thing. Veena Siddharth talked about this, that when you start a family planning program, this is an older version of the family planning program not the one I've just described. What you see is they took--there was a place called Matlab, one of the districts in Bangladesh, and they chose some villages, they wanted to know if what they were doing was successful, some villages they gave this family planning program to and other villages they didn't, as a control region. Here is during this period up until 1977 the comparison area where they didn't do anything special. The government had a small program but nothing much was happening.



Now, the International Diarrheal Research Group comes in with this somewhat updated program, not the one I showed you, and what happens immediately there's great success and they're jumping up and down, okay this is true, but then it peaks and then over time it falls down. What's happening here is a small fraction of the women--well 20% is not terrible, but a small fraction of the women, before the program comes in, want to limit their births. You give them anything, they accept it immediately. That this initial rise and that's very standard for family planning programs. That you get an initial rise and then it falls off, and over the long term if you're evaluating the program here you think it's wonderful, but if you're evaluating the program here it's kind of worthless.



Veena was talking about that, that she comes out of this economic World Bank perspective and they're very impressed with these periods of time. This is a program that, in retrospect, we would say really didn't work, although it helps a fair fraction of the women. Then you put in the good program that I described to you and now what happens, the later time, so we stop the previous--the previous graph stopped in 1977 at this level of contraceptive acceptance, so they had a program that didn't work, and then they start sending these village working women into the homes of the other women and now you get another big rise, that this is now successful immediately, but now the success continues.



Meanwhile there's modernization and there's social diffusion that these areas, the comparison areas are actually intermixed with the treatment areas, and they hear a lot about what's going on in there and so for that reason and others are not--we don't really have data to say why a rise, but even in the comparison area it starts to rise. In one of your readings about Taiwan where you have family planning, a very similar kind of thing. It makes a big point that, they did have some data, that they had villages where they had a family planning program, and then as soon as this was heard about in the surrounding regions people would come into the treatment region to get treatment so fertility goes down. One of the factors behind this is certainly diffusion of the ideas of family planning.



This thing in Bangladesh has had terrible significance for what we believe about family planning programs and people's acceptance of it, because up until this time it was really dogma that you have to have economic development and you have to have a degree of literacy, and you have to have some degree of women's status before people would want to limit their fertility. Then you go into Bangladesh with a well funded, well thought out, well run program, and it starts working.



Now Bangladesh is--its fertility has kept falling and it's in there with a lot of countries that are a lot richer than it. India is as lot richer, Egypt is a lot richer than Bangladesh, and they all now have come to more or less the same kind of fertility level. It now is no longer really believed--it's believed that women almost everywhere, in this case it must be the men, because the men and the mother-in-law's control the issue--really do want to reduce fertility and if you give them the option, they will accept it.



Along the way other places have learned other lessons, so India next door had a much stronger central government because of the Gandhi effect, Gandhi was such a national hero to all the ethnic groups in India, so the government was strong and Nehru was very strong, and Nehru's daughter Mrs. Gandhi was very strong, and they were Westernized, under the Malthusian influence, and they decided that they need a family planning program also. Actually India was even before this, but again they didn't know to do it, and they decided to use incentives.



That's when economists keep telling us, every time you take an economics course, people respond to incentives and so they decided to use incentives to get people to take on family planning. There's a lot of debate about this issue of incentives and one part of it, one article I read about people in villages in Nepal like the one that Veena was in, pretty far. They have to take a whole day off from work to go down to get a contraceptive, then they have to go back, and what kind can they get, because they can't go this every month to get something new, and they can't take time off from their work or their chores, so it's a real major economic expense. Not the contraceptive itself, but the time and effort needed if they have to take a bus, it may be very expensive in their economy.



So part of the idea of giving incentives is to just repay the woman for her time and effort. India had started out that way but the program was not very well run, it wasn't--they didn't have the big international help that Bangladesh had and the program wasn't terribly well run, and so they sort of got frustrated at the results and their population kept going and there was a time in India, way before this current boom that India is--has been going through, and may or may not still be going through, and so the government got frustrated and the population grew and they saw their hopes, there's this window of opportunity that I was talking about from modernization, if the population gets too dense that window may close.



The government got desperate and started introducing some coercion, some of it is incentive like transistor radios to the men--to get the men to get sterilized and that was wonderful but who got sterilized, the old men that weren't going to have children anyway, but I get a transistor radio or some money out of this. The whole thing crashed and it came entangled as in America, reproduction and politics, so the opposition to the--people didn't especially like it because it's changing their culture. But, the opposition took hold of it and blew up all the abuses, no question there were abuses, blew up the abuses, the newspapers blared the abuses and it became a very big political thing and the Congress Party government fell because of that.



India has since sort of--then they went through a period where they sort of did nothing in family planning because it was in such bad favor and now they've started up again and things are going a lot better. I think the story of this is that the idea which was prevalent up until the Bangladesh experiment, that only rich countries are going to reduce their fertility is just plain wrong, and now as the fertility transition goes through Asia, it's now amazing, places--very poor places what's happening there.



Ceylon was one of the first countries in Asia to get down to replacement level, very poor, Ceylon is not a rich place, Kerala one of the poorest provinces of India is down at replacement level; all kinds of countries Thailand, Indonesia, all have really reduced their fertility at amazingly low levels of per capita income. Income is clearly important, one doesn't want to throw it out, it's perfectly clear that things are easier if you have more money and there's reasons why richer people have fewer children which we'll go into but it is not a necessary prerequisite. We will see--have a good vacation, enjoy, come back refreshed and I will see you then.



[end of transcript]

Course Index

Course Description


This survey course introduces students to the important and basic material on human fertility, population growth, the demographic transition and population policy. Topics include: the human and environmental dimensions of population pressure, demographic history, economic and cultural causes of demographic change, environmental carrying capacity and sustainability. Political, religious and ethical issues surrounding fertility are also addressed. The lectures and readings attempt to balance theoretical and demographic scale analyzes with studies of individual humans and communities. The perspective is global with both developed and developing countries included.



Course Structure:

This Yale College course, taught on campus twice per week for 75 minutes, was recorded for Open Yale Courses in Spring 2009.

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