asadullah8_Zakir Hossain ChowdhuryNurPhoto via Getty Images_girls school bangladesh Zakir Hossain Chowdhury/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Social Returns of Ending Son Bias

Reducing pre- and postnatal sex selection, curbing the preferential treatment of boys, and addressing parents’ underinvestment in daughters requires increased spending on public education for girls. Bangladesh offers an example of the long-term benefits of such an approach.

KUALA LUMPUR/LONDON/VENICE/CANTERBURY – In much of emerging Asia, persistent bias in favor of sons remains a barrier to girls’ life prospects – and often to life itself. Pre- and postnatal sex selection, including abortion and infanticide, have led to significant demographic imbalances.

Son preference also perpetuates large-scale social problems. Because a majority of the population still values sons more highly than daughters – a preference reinforced by cultural traditions in which sons play an important role (like performing funeral rituals in Hinduism) – South Asia is rife with domestic violence, child marriage, and deaths due to dowry disputes. And parents’ cultural preference for sons can create additional human-development challenges.

Nowhere is this more evident than in India. Educational and economic opportunities for boys and girls remain deeply unequal, as the country’s rapid economic growth since the 1990s was not accompanied by large-scale changes in gender attitudes and traditional social values. And, owing to sex selection, the country’s ratio of males to females is imbalanced, with millions of girls and women missing from schools and the labor market.

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