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A surplus of men. A deficit of peace?



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991

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November 24, 2009

LONDON - A census released in Beijing reported that there is now an extraordinary imbalance in the birth-rate - 117 boys are being born for every 100 girls. In southern Hainan province the gap widens to an astonishing 135/100 ratio. In China today about 97% of all unmarried persons aged between 28 and 49 are male.

China is probably the world leader in using cheap scans to enable parents to know the sex of their child in the womb and, despite breaking the law, to find a doctor who will abort a foetus for no more reason than it happens to be female. However, this practice is also widely practised in many other Asian countries. India is not far behind. Adding the two countries together there are perhaps between 60 and 70 million missing females in Asia.

The historical record suggests that societies that breed surplus males end up with more crime and with a higher propensity for going to war. Within twenty years both China and India will end up with around 30 million young surplus males. They have no brides, no families, and thus will tend to be roamers, migrants and putative warriors.

Those who think that by a quick fix they can boost the family fortunes by getting rid of apparently useless girls will find all too quickly that having sons grow up that lose out in the highly competitive stakes for gaining a wife quickly trade away their society's natural charm and stability. The equilibrium of everyday life will be gradually but surely undermined by the horrors of surplus testosterone.

Whatever else the female does for the male she calms him down and gives him a centre of gravity, opens doors to other interests outside the boys' own world, smothers him with family life and family responsibilities, and perhaps gives him both a reason to be and the chance of daily success that endures, although the world outside may be undermining him, thwarting him, and perhaps on occasion besting him. Even in the most male orientated or most female liberated of cultures these essential truths seem to hold.

According to one study "The Moral Animal" by Robert Wright, "an unmarried man between 24 and 35 years of age is about three times as likely to murder another male as a married man the same age". Another study by Allan Mazur and Alan Both published in the June 1998 issue of the academic magazine, "Behavioural and Brain Science", argues that testosterone levels in men who court women and then marry drop relative to men who do not. "Testosterone levels may explain the low criminality found among married men".

Hudson and Den Boer have done some intriguing research on the effect of male dominated populations. One study was of the Nien rebellion in China of 1851-63, finally quelled in 1868. This occurred in the poor area of Huai-pei in northern China. After a particular bad period of failed harvests the people began a policy of female infanticide, and between one-fifth and one quarter of all females were killed as children in the hope that the remaining boys would be more adept at bringing in an income for parents who knew they would age prematurely. In reality, bereft of brides, many young men took to banditry.

They began as salt smugglers but ended up attempting to overthrow the Qing dynasty. At the peak of their rebellion there were some 100,000 of these "bare sticks" as they were called. The imperial government was compelled to import foreign arms and modernize its army along Western lines. Only then was the rebellion crushed.

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There is much more of this kind of research in the article and doubters should look up the original. Common sense suggests there is something in it, even though we know the pogroms in Rwanda took place in a society that had an almost perfect sex ratio. Of course, the sex-imbalance theorists cannot explain everything and violence and war come about for a wide number of reasons, from environmental stress in the case of Rwanda to the vanity and short sightedness of politicians in the case of the First World War. Yet this theorizing perhaps explains why, when Britain lost so many of its young men in the trenches of World War 1, a female dominated post war society helped propel Britain for a while into serious disarmament and a near pacifist foreign policy.

In his important article in Foreign Affairs Francis Fukuyama has wondered whether a democratic country's propensity towards a peaceful foreign policy is better explained by the status of women in democracies than by the simple existence of democratic institutions themselves. It could explain in part why the U.S. and Britain are more warlike than the Scandinavian countries.

And Asian leaders should start to ask themselves if war between India and China or India and Pakistan (another sex imbalanced country) is rather more likely in the coming years because what is going on today in village hospitals and doctors' surgeries all over Asia. A surplus of men, a deficit of peace, perhaps?

Copyright © 2009 Jonathan Power


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Jonathan Power can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172
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Jonathan Power 2007 Book
Conundrums of Humanity
The Quest for Global Justice

“Conundrums of Humanity” poses eleven questions for our future progress, ranging from “Can we diminish War?” to “How far and fast can we push forward the frontiers of Human Rights?” to “Will China dominate the century?”
The answers to these questions, the author believes, growing out of his long experience as a foreign correspondent and columnist for the International Herald Tribune, are largely positive ones, despite the hurdles yet to be overcome. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, London, 2007.

William Pfaff, September 17, 2007
Jonathan Power's book "Conundrums" - A Review
"His is a powerful and comprehensive statement of ways to make the world better.
Is that worth the Nobel Prize?
I say, why not?"


Jonathan Power's 2001 book

Like Water on Stone
The Story of Amnesty International

Follow this link to read about - and order - Jonathan Power's book written for the 40th Anniversary of Amnesty International



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