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International Security 26.4 (2002) 5-38

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A Surplus of Men, A Deficit of Peace:
Security and Sex Ratios in Asia's largest States

Valerie M. Hudson and Andrea Den Boer


International security and stability rest in large measure on the internal security of nations. Analysts have long examined factors such as arms transfers and ethnic violence in this regard, but the list now includes variables that were not traditionally viewed as related to national security. Unemployment rates, water tables and river flows, infant mortality, migration patterns, infectious disease epidemiology, and a whole host of other variables that tap into the general stability of a society are now understood to affect security. To understand the long-term security dynamics of a region, one must inquire into what Thomas Homer-Dixon and others have termed the "environmental security" of the nations therein. 1

Our own research is surely located in that field of inquiry, yet we contemplate a variable that has been by and large neglected even by scholars of environmental security. One overlooked wellspring of insecurity, we argue, is exaggerated gender inequality. Security scholarship is theoretically and empirically impoverished to the extent that it fails to inquire into the relationship between violence against women and violence within and between societies. We believe that our research demonstrates that the long-term security trajectory of a region is affected by this relationship.

Admittedly, there is probably no society in which women do not experience some gender inequality, meaning subordinate status or inferior treatment inpolitical, legal, social, or economic matters. Indeed, what would constitute aperfect society between men and women is a controversial topic with which we are not concerned here. However, exaggerated gender inequality is hard to miss: We define it to be present when, because of gender, one child isallowed to live while another is actively or passively killed. 2 Offspring sex [End Page 5] selection, 3 almost universally used to favor male offspring, indicates that the life of a female in the society is not only not valued but actually despised. There can be no greater evidence of the extremely unequal and subordinate status of women in a society than the presence of prevalent offspring sex selection therein.

If violence against women within a society bears any relationship to violence within and between societies, then it should be possible to see that relationship at work in societies where violence against women is exaggerated—that is, where offspring sex selection is prevalent. Specifically, internal instability is heightened in nations displaying exaggerated gender inequality, leading to an altered security calculus for the state. Possibilities of meaningful democracy and peaceful foreign policy are diminished as a result.

We first quantify the scale on which sex ratios are being altered in Asia, then estimate the number of resulting surplus young adult males currently present in Asia's two largest states, China and India, as well as projected to the year 2020. Next, we discuss behavioral syndromes associated with surplus young adult male groups, and investigate the role of such groups in instability and violence within and between societies in several historical cases. Finally, we ask whether these same phenomena are beginning to be seen in China and India today, and raise broader issues of governance and foreign policy in high sex-ratio societies.

Modern Prevalence of Offspring Sex Selection

The practice of offspring sex selection can be found in a large variety of historical cultures from all continents. In virtually all cases, the selection was in favor of male infants. Here we concentrate on the modern incidence of offspring sex selection and seek to quantify its scale.

Two statistics set the stage for our discussion: the birth sex ratio and the overall sex ratio. Normal birth sex ratios range between 105 and 107 male births per 100 female births. This normal range holds across racial groups, though there may be some parental age-related or diet-related variations within such groups. The overall sex ratio (i.e., the sex ratio across...