ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Sex Ratio at Birth in Urban India

An exploration of the trends and patterns of sex ratio at birth in urban India and the processes behind son preference suggests a systematic worsening of SRB with increasing urban district size classes. The likelihood of giving birth to a son at the first order is highest among women with a stated son preference, which continues to effect second and third order births, given the sex of the previous child. The interrelationship between SRB and educational attainment shows an inverted U-shape. A balanced SRB among poor women corroborates their unbiased gender preference. In contrast, wealthier women and those with exposure to mass media exhibit poor SRB, although they report a neutral preference. 


The authors are grateful to the anonymous reviewer P M Kulkarni and Sanjay Kumar for their constructive comments. The authors are also thankful to Sudeshna Maitra, Biswjit Mondal, and T C Sharma for their research inputs and Chitra Sangtani for copyediting. This research was supported by the United Nations Population Fund, Delhi office.

The relationship between urbanisation and sex ratio at birth (SRB) in India is a generalised perception that lacks empirical underpinning. Studies around this subject, which concede that declining SRB is primarily an urban phenomenon, suffer from a lack of comprehensive evidence-based examination of their association. While the factors ­affecting SRB have been a subject of academic discussion, they have never been satisfactorily resolved. The recent decline in SRB has drawn the interest of researchers, who have attempted to understand and differentiate its determinants and also provide evidence of distortion. However, until now, there has been no comprehensive study that attempts to understand the dynamics of SRB at a granular level in urban areas, and correlating it with determining factors. The present study attempts to fill this gap.

Notably, the fertility aspirations of couples have witnessed manifold changes in urban India with a rapid decline in infant and child mortality, establishing demographic impacts on SRB (Guilmoto 2009). One such demographic consequence is the skewed SRB (urban). The World Health Organization (2011: 12) describes skewed SRB as “an unacceptable manifestation of gender discrimination against girls and women and a violation of their human rights.” An undeniable favouritism for boys at birth has a historical cultural inheritance in India, influencing discrimination against girls even in recent times such that a significant number of girls are eliminated before birth (Patel 2006). The Economic Survey, 2017–18 (GoI 2018), reports that over the last 10–15 years, India’s performance improved on 14 out of 17 indicators related to women’s agency, attitudes, and outcomes, especially in urban areas. However, gender parity remains a serious challenge in different spheres of deve­lopment. Despite advancements in economic development, the survey shows that gender biases prevail in land possession, entitlements of assets, and levels of education, employment and wages. Furthermore, it draws attention to the phenomenon of “missing women” and “unwanted girls,” which it attributes to the skewed SRB.

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Updated On : 17th Jan, 2022
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