The changing sex ratio in South Korea
In South Korea, once one of Asia’s most rigidly patriarchal societies, a centuries-old preference for baby boys is fast receding. And that has led to what seems to be a decrease in the number of abortions performed after ultrasounds that reveal the sex of a fetus.
According to a study released by the World Bank in October, South Korea is the first of several Asian countries with large sex imbalances at birth to reverse the trend, moving toward greater parity between the sexes. Last year, the ratio was 107.4 boys born for every 100 girls, still above what is considered normal, but down from a peak of 116.5 boys born for every 100 girls in 1990. The most important factor in changing attitudes toward girls was the radical shift in the country’s economy that opened the doors to women in the work force as never before and dismantled long-held traditions, which so devalued daughters that mothers would often apologize for giving birth to a girl.
The NY Times attributes this sea change to things like an advertising campaign by the government. An explanation that I had given in Freedomnomics was that as the ratio of men to women rose, women would become more valuable. In competition to marry women, men would be forced to offer them more and it would open opportunities for women. Nothing more than simple supply and demand is needed to explain the societal changes.