Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Imbalances affect stability

Mara Hvistendahl, a former comparative politics student, wrote a book (Unnatural Selection) about the "missing 100 million females" in Asia. The cause of the gender imbalance in China, India, and other countries is a preference for male children. Hvistendahl speculated about political, economic, and social changes that will come with these imbalances.

Perhaps she should have included Nigeria in her book as well. What affects might this imbalance have on Nigeria's politics, economy, and society?

Bring back the girls
SEX-SELECTIVE abortions are used round the world to discriminate in favour of boys. But not in Africa. Nigeria’s sex ratio at birth is the natural one…

Yet despite all this, a recent study* finds that Nigeria also suffers from sexual bias from birth and that, while this does not skew the sex ratio, it manifests itself in other ways that harm individuals and society as a whole. Son-preference damages maternal health, makes marriage trickier for women, increases polygamy and alters the institution of child-fostering, which is widespread in west Africa.

In Nigeria, as in many other African countries, men have stronger ownership rights over land than women do. This gives everyone an economic need for sons, including women, who face a grim widowhood without one… [W]omen whose first child is a daughter are likely to have more children than those whose first child is a son…

It also changes a woman’s married life. Women with first-born daughters are 1.2 percentage points more likely to end up in a polygamous union. Some husbands, it turns out, take another wife if their first child is a girl (polygamy is legal in northern Nigeria and recognised by customary law elsewhere). Men also seem more willing to abandon or divorce wives who produce a daughter…

Heading a household may sound like a good thing. But in Nigeria, as in most countries, female headship is associated with poverty. In fact, almost everything to do with having a daughter first is bad for women. Being in a polygamous household harms their health and their children’s because of competition for food in the home. Having children in quick succession damages maternal health, since mothers need time to recover after giving birth. The need to produce sons may also help explain Nigeria’s maternal-mortality rate of 550 deaths per 100,000 live births—one of the highest rates in the world, even though Nigeria is now a middle-income country…


* “Son preference, fertility and family structure”. By Annamaria Milazzo. World Bank. Working Paper 6869.

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