This nation’s child-gender ratio — the number of girls to boys — is at its most lopsided in 50 years, as a growing number of couples opt to abort female fetuses or neglect infant girls in their desperation for sons. While it is often assumed that uneducated, rural Indians are the most likely to shun daughters, researchers say the practice is quickly growing in the urban enclaves where incomes are rising — and whose inhabitants are poised to play a key role in shaping what is due to be the world’s most populous nation by 2025.
More than 40 percent of Indians will belong to the middle class in 2030, up from 12 percent in 2010, according to McKinsey, the New York-based consultancy. Many such families “want a son to take forward their business,” Patil, a chemistry lecturer, said as she walked one recent afternoon along a coastal promenade popular with joggers and couples in Worli, a neighborhood in Mumbai’s G-South ward.
Nationwide, there are just 914 girls age 6 and younger to every 1,000 boys, according to the 2011 census, down from 927 a decade before. In G-South, a fast-changing area of new high-rises that house young professionals, 882 girls were born per 1,000 boys in the first 10 months of 2012, among the lowest ratios in the city.
“It is certainly a worrying trend that this seems to be happening in affluent families,” said Manisha Mhaiskar, a deputy commissioner in Mumbai’s municipal council. “It is a cause for concern for both the national and the state” governments.
Indian sociologists say upwardly mobile families are eager to protect recently acquired wealth and enterprises, and daughters are seen as expensive in a country where dowries, though officially outlawed, remain widespread. After marriage, a bride typically moves in with her in-laws, and her inheritance in effect goes to her new family.
Medical advances — and a growing middle class with money to spend on them — also mean that well-off and educated urban couples have increasing access to ultrasounds that can identify sex and to abortion clinics. They also tend to want fewer children, a calculation that reduces their chances to have a boy, researchers say.
“Our elders think you must have a son. So [some women] think, ‘I must have one and make them happy.’ And it’s hard, because you don’t want to keep on producing children and have five or six children in today’s society,” said Rachana Zangda, 30, a business graduate who was also walking along the promenade. Both Zangda and Patil, who do not have children, said they would be equally happy to have a son or a daughter.