To Kill Or Not To Kill Your Daughters

The prevalence of female abortion and infanticide in India and China, especially combined with the return of Chinese concubinage, suggests either that modern human beings lack the instincts to make the correct choice of the sex of their offspring, or we have misunderstood the nature of the game.

Other animals seem to adjust the sex ratios in their brood according to strategies that make perfect sense. For example, in any reproductive system with high variance (where the number of females that reproduce is much higher than the number of males that reproduce), and in which it is the sons that inherit social rank, having male offspring is only a good idea if you and your mate are yourselves good physical specimens. This may be why high-status human beings appear to produce more sons than daughters, although the statistical noise is deafening. Bigger-and-better daughters do not particularly outbreed their smaller sisters, but bigger-and-better sons can win harems and give you far more grandchildren. Inferior sons will fail to breed at all and are thus a complete waste of effort. Sons are, therefore, a high-risk, high-reward strategy, while daughters are a safe bet. If, then, because of your nutritional status (and/or, in humans, social status) you are likely to produce inferior sons, then you should definitely have daughters, whatever their quality, as they will probably reproduce anyway. And indeed, lower Indian castes demonstrably prefer daughters, who can and do marry up the social scale, while the obsession with sons was traditionally a high-caste characteristic.

So what are all these female-killing Asians thinking? One possibility is that the infanticide and female abortion is confined to the elite, but that we are not being told this. Another possibility is that the democratisation of aristocracy, that is, the television-mediated aping of one’s social superiors that has wholly replaced folk culture, has led millions of the aspiring new middle classes to imitate former elite practices. If so, the consequences for their ultimate reproductive fitness (number of grandchildren) will probably be catastrophic, as the middle class as a whole is then producing sons but aborting their natural mates. Should their social inferiors, however, respond to market signals by producing more daughters, then a stable resolution is possible; in a kind of homeostasis, many of the yuppies’ sons will have to marry peasant girls, which will serve their snobbish parents jolly well right. The third possibility, that female-killing is being done by all levels of society, suggests that elite imitation has displaced sociobiological mechanisms all the way down.

It is no new observation that, in addition to all its other problems, the world is facing a plethora of useless males. Economic changes have made jobs for inarticulate musclemen redundant and favoured gossipy females with neat little fingers; changes in family structures, together with an ideology of social feminisation and suspicion of all man-child contact, have left boys few viable role models; and perhaps environmental toxins have hit the always-delicate male neurology more heavily. People will soon be asking whether we should make some kind of arrangement to bring fewer of these dysfunctional creatures into the world in the first place. Unfortunately, we should then run into one of those tragedy-of-the-commons problems, in that defection is automatically rewarded. For if males are rare, then females can maximise their reproductive success by having sons; for a woman’s sons can sire more grandchildren than her competitors’ daughters can bear. Rarity of one gender always drives the sex ratio towards equal investment; sooner or later Indian and Chinese parents are going to realise that when daughters have become relatively rare, they can pick, choose and dictate marriage terms, and that daughters are consequently a better route to grandchild prosperity. Intelligent governments would explain this to them.

Posted on July 20, 2009 at 12:16 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: AGAINST NATURE, "Love" Contra Social Stability

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