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Intellect

Agenda-setting BYU research on China basis for "60 Minutes" investigation

Brigham Young University political science professor Valerie Hudson, whose research on China's gender imbalance has earned academic honors, is part of a story that appeared Sunday, Aprl 16, on CBS's "60 Minutes."

In Hudson's book on the topic, "Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia's Surplus Male Population," published as part of Harvard's Belfer Center series on international security, she warned that by 2020, China's government will be forced to contend with a potentially unruly and unrooted population of 30 million surplus young adult males with no hope of marriage.

The book won the Association of American Publishers' award for Best Professional/Scholarly Book in Government and Political Science and was a finalist for the $200,000 Grawemeyer Award for Improving World Order. Hudson's former graduate student Andrea den Boer, now a lecturer at the University of Kent, is a co-author of the book.

"'Bare Branches' reveals a largely overlooked but important [factor associated] with war and peace: high ratios of males to females," said Jessica Stern, lecturer in public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "All those who hope to understand the causes of war – in academe as well as in government – will have to be aware of these findings."

The "60 Minutes" story is the latest manifestation of the research's widespread impact. An earlier journal article on the topic was featured in a cover story in "USA Today," the book earned a multi-page article in "The New York Times" and the researchers have published op-ed pieces in "The Washington Post" and "International Herald-Tribune."

"The idea that an abnormal sex ratio could present problems has become a commonly understood idea not only in academics, but also among policy makers and interested lay people," said Hudson. "That's been a real breakthrough for us. News stories that touch on the problem often don't even cite us anymore, because the idea is now part of the public consciousness."

"The problem" is a growing disparity between the number of boys and girls born in Asian societies, which place a special value on sons. The book is the first to examine a consequence of the dearth of women – legions of young men with no hopes of marriage, and therefore, its authors say, prone to violence and unrest.

A normal sex ratio at birth is between 105 and 107 males born for every 100 females. Gathering data from many sources, the authors assessed the current birth sex ratio in China as 120 males per 100 females.

According to the study, about 97 percent of all unmarried people aged 28 to 49 in China are male, and 74 percent of unmarried males failed to graduate from high school. Most are migrants. India and other Asian countries demonstrate similar trends.

The implications of this trend have started to take root in China. In July of 2004, Chinese officials announced their intent to balance birth sex ratios by 2010, Hudson said. More specific proposals followed last year, but she is dubious of their potential. The government is promising special pensions for families with only daughters, but Hudson wonders if a rural couple will have faith in an assurance that will take decades to bear fruit. She is more hopeful about a step some provinces have taken to ban all abortions after 14 weeks gestation, when gender can be determined. Other provinces have stipulated that a panel of three doctors must certify that an abortion is not based on gender for it to proceed. Still others have offered rewards for tips on finding unofficial ultrasound clinics.

"They have taken this on as a problem that merits a higher place on the nation's agenda," said Hudson. "It's encouraging that the Chinese government is making these initiatives. But we haven't seen that from India and that is particularly distressing considering India is a democracy."

While Hudson continues to speak widely on the subject of sex ratios, she has expanded her research agenda to explore other topics relevant to gender and government. She is overseeing a project, which is about 40 percent complete, to document 217 indicators of the status of women in 179 nation-states, including categories as varied as the practice of honor killings, levels of employment discrimination, caloric intake and age at the birth of the first child. The resulting database will be a tool useful for researchers in many fields.

Hudson, who also has a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop new methodologies for tackling social science problems, summed up her motivation: "The status of women is linked to the fate of their nations – with regard to both domestic stability, foreign policy and also security."

Hudson, Valerie-L.jpg

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