Fairfield University's research finds sex ratio imbalance crisis in India being fueled by complex family pressures


"Impact India 2021: Elevating the Value of Women and Girls in Society"

Image: Gita RajanA new study has dug deeper into India's sex ratio imbalance crisis to find that it is being fueled by complex family pressures, including the belief that boys will be better wage earners, and that men will be more likely to take better care of their aging parents. The study also indicates that elders in the family and often husbands prefer a male child, while many wives pointed out that their voices could not be made heard, and they had little choice in the matter.

Led by Fairfield University's Center for Faith and Public Life, the pilot study, is very different from past studies that were exclusively quantitative in nature. Fairfield University's innovative survey included qualitative components to better understand how gender dynamics and family pressures in India lead to the birth of a significantly greater number of boys than girls. The study suggests that male child preference is quite prevalent and the sex imbalance ratio - which is on the increase and was evident in the 2011 Indian National Census - is likely to be a major impediment to the future development of India. The crisis is impacting peoples of all religions, of all economic classes, living in urban and rural areas with considerable ramifications to India's economy, the Gross Domestic Product, and an increased threat of violence in the society.

Fairfield professors hope this research will ultimately lead to concrete projects in education and workforce development for young people. "This study finds that better access to education and employment prospects will demonstrate to families how to elevate the value of women and girls in society," said Gita Rajan, Ph.D., professor of English at Fairfield's College of Arts & Sciences, an Indian American, who developed the idea for the research endeavor. "There is a need to focus on both boys and girls to make sure that the younger generation as a whole is given opportunities."

Dr. Rajan led the study with Rev. Richard Ryscavage, S.J., professor of sociology and director of The Center for Faith and Public Life. "The study also found that many families feel that educating a boy is more important - the belief being they make better political leaders, business executives, and wage earners in general," said Fr. Ryscavage. "What we intend to do is foster the belief system that every citizen has value and that girls and women most certainly cannot be left behind." 

Image: Rick RyscavageThe pilot study was undertaken after discussions with the Office of Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer at the U.S. Department of State. It is a crucial component of a long-term project: "Impact India 2021: Elevating the Value of Women and Girls in Society." According to the 2011 National Census of India, there were 914 girls born for every 1,000 boys; in some regions reaching as low as 824 girls. These figures are alarming in comparison to the United Nation's 2010 Population Sex Ratio norm of 101.7 males to 100 females. The Indian census numbers therefore show a severe sex ratio imbalance in the nation. The Indian government, numerous global agencies, NGOs and researchers contend that as women become a minority in the population, there is bound to be a detrimental effect on both India's economic development and social stability. United Nations demographers point to colossal, long-term negative results wherein having more boys/men than girls could lead to an increased predilection to violence in societies.

Undertaken in partnership with St. Xavier College in Mumbai and Loyola College in Chennai, the research also found that girls are being systematically devalued in society. Yet, the findings also revealed many wives responding that daughters would be better caregivers than sons.

"The findings of the pilot study have given us confidence to move to a scaled-up Phase II level with seven Jesuit-run colleges in India," said Dr. Rajan. "These schools are in different regions of India, and we look forward to activating Jesuit partnerships across the nation to understand more clearly how family dynamics lead to male child preference."

The India government has expressed its willingness to address the sex ratio imbalance crisis. This is one of the reasons Fairfield chose to undertake the research endeavor, which surveyed the upper layer of the lower class and the lower layer of the middle class. The assumption was that those families could be the part of the population that can make changes in their attitudes towards the son preference practice, a change that could be discernible by the next census, in 2021.

Rev. Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J., president of Fairfield University, said the next phase of "Impact India" will involve expanding the number of Indian families surveyed to as many as 3,000 and entail forging partnerships with more Jesuit colleges. "Fairfield, as a Jesuit institution, is well-placed to proceed with this initiative, because of the world-wide network of Jesuit institutions. Our institutional emphasis on educating our students to be global citizens also perfectly supports this most vital endeavor."

For more information, visit http://www.fairfield.edu/cfpl/cfpl_gsri.html.

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Posted on March 14, 2012