Where are all the women?

By Shipra Mathur| August 8th, 2018

So, recently, my dear friend, and co-host of The Modern Indian podcast, shared this amazing Washington Post article about the gender gap in India and China. The article goes in-depth about the widening population gender gap. Apparently, there are more men than women, and as a result, many men are finding it difficult to meet a suitable female partner. Furthermore, many will never meet one in their lifetime.

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This shift is due to a long standing tradition, in both China and India, to prefer the male child. The male is viewed as more economically favorable,  while the female is looked upon as a financial burden. In these largely traditional societies, the male is the one who is going to get an education, a job, the money, and is viewed as more financially capable, overall, than the female. The female is a viewed as a costly burden that has to have an expensive wedding, with dowries, and those dowries will take the family decades to save. Large parts of Indian society also views the female child as not “belonging” to the family and is raised to be “given away” to her eventual husbands family.

As we were discussing the article, it wasn’t shocking that this gender gap was occuring in the these Asian populations, but it was astonishing to come to terms with the actual numbers and the reality of how large this gap is. The economist suggests that, in India,  for every 160 men ready for marriage there will only be 100 women, available. India has an excess of 37 million males, according to its most recent national census.

I am not surprised by the current state of  India’s gender imbalance. Growing up in India, as a female, it was very clear that India’s society has a preference for the male gender. There is simply a  price-tag that is placed on the female, in Indian, society that permeates from all levels.


The value of a woman is most evident from the minute a couple is married and the blessings for a male heir start pouring in. Superstitious rituals start taking place to encourage the woman to give birth to a male child. Many north indian societies don’t celebrate the birth of the female child because, well, “what’s to celebrate?”. She is not going to be the heir, or carry the family name, or take care of you when you are old.

As girls grow up in this patriarchal society, they are constantly subjected to passive conversations about how their parents are saving for their eventual wedding. I was recently visiting some family in Rajasthan and was introduced to the concept of “Bhat”; a practice where the uncle has to pay a large sum for her niece’s wedding. This concept extends the burden of having a female, from just the parents, to the entire extended family.  


So, it’s no wonder that many people, especially the really poor, seek out an abortion the minute they find out that they are having a female child. It’s sad that such a large part of society has become so numb to the idea of aborting the female fetus, and that the government has had to step in, by banning  gynecologists from revealing the sex of the fetus. It’s poignant that people are still seeking, now, illegal abortions of the female fetus, despite witnessing or experiencing the population gender gap, in their own societies. It’s as if they aren’t able to connect the dots. Perhaps the crippling fear of potential financial burden associated with the female child destroys all sense of logic.

So what does all this mean, in reality?

The most evident, is the increase in sexual harassment. We are already witnessing this, in India, but it is only going to increase. The overall lack of available women means that many men will never have a female interaction in their life, will never marry, never have sex, and never have a female companion. The pent-up sexual frustration and repression will eventually turn into increased harassment, rapes, and violence. There will probably also be a rise in the demand for prostitution, which will create a rise in human trafficking.

The BBC has reported a notable increase in underage marriages and marriages with a significant age difference. Many men aren’t able to find suitable women in their own communities, so they are traveling to different communities and marrying girls much younger than them. There's also an increase in the number of inter-religious weddings within India. This is an interesting cultural shift, where north indian men are going outside their sub-community and looking for women in south India (which is not at all the norm). This could lead to some really positive changes, in the future, because while north Indian society is very patriarchal, comparatively the south Indian societies tends to value the female more and encourages the educational development of the women.  


Another report from Public Radio International discusses a “Crisis of masculinity” occurring in  Indian society, which is causing an increase of mental health issues, loneliness, and depression among men. These men who had been raised to believe in very traditional gender roles are grappling with the reality that their inability to find a suitable wife is making them solely responsible for caring, for their elderly parents. They are now having to perform all household chores that were considered to be the responsibility of the female. These men are also realizing that they have to “woo” women and improve their “resumes” to be viewed as a suitable boy. Having no idea on how to flirt they are turning to Bollywood to pick up flirting skills, which ends with them engaging in borderline harassment of women.

I wonder if this would lead to a reverse form of dowry. Much like the Chinese bride prices concept, where the male family has to pay the female’s family for the privilege of marrying their daughter.

While the micro impact of the gender population gap is concentrated to rural and uneducated areas of the country, there is no doubt the macro impact is going to have some major consequences in the overall society.

In researching into this topic, we came across a lot of really fascinating and interesting articles and videos, which are listed below: