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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Prenatal Sex-Selective Abortion and High Sex Ratio at Birth in Rural China: A Case Study in Henan Province


The high sex ratio at birth in China has attracted considerable attentions from demographers. Previous studies assert that female infanticide, underreporting of female births, and prenatal sex-selective abortion were the immediate causes of the initial increase of the sex ratio at birth. Recent studies suggest that prenatal sex selection became the leading immediate cause of more recent increase in the sex ratio at birth. A snowball sampling survey conducted in rural Henan in 2001 collected information on women’s abortion histories. Using these data, we analyze the practice and mechanisms regarding to prenatal sex selection, as well as its impact on SRB. Results show that prenatal sex selection is widely known and commonly practiced in the studied area. The SRB is the highest among births that have only sister(s), and close to normal for other births. Using a population-average model, we found that female fetuses that have only sister(s) are most likely to be aborted. Finally, our imputation suggests that sex-selective abortion has been the predominant, if not the sole, immediate cause of the high SRB.

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