Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men


Summary

In 2007, the booming port city of Lianyungang achieved the dubious distinction of having the most extreme gender ratio for children under five in China: 163 boys for every 100 girls. The numbers may not matter much to the preschool set. But in twenty years the skewed sex ratio will pose a colossal challenge. When Lianyungang’s children reach adulthood, their generation will have twenty-four million more men than women.

The prognosis for China’s neighbors is no less bleak: rampant sex-selective abortion has left over 160 million females “missing” from Asia’s population. And gender imbalance reaches far beyond South and East Asia, affecting the Caucasus countries, Eastern Europe, and even some groups in the United States—a rate of diffusion so rapid that the leading expert on the topic compares it to an epidemic. As economic development spurs parents in developing countries to have fewer children and brings them access to sex-determination technology, couples are making sure at least one of their children is a  son. So many parents now select for boys that they have skewed the sex ratio at birth of the entire world.

Sex selection did not arise on its own. Largely unknown until now is that the sex ratio imbalance is partly the work of a group of 1960s American activists and scientists who zealously backed the use of prenatal technologies in their haste to solve an earlier global problem.

What does this mean for our future? The sex-ratio imbalance has already led to a spike in sex trafficking and bride-buying across Asia, and it may be linked to a recent rise in crime there as well. More far-reaching problems could be on the horizon: From ancient Rome to the American Wild West, historical excesses of men have yielded periods of violence and instability. Traveling to nine countries, Mara Hvistendahl has produced a stunning, impeccably researched book that examines not only the consequences of the misbegotten policies underlying sex selection but also the West’s role in creating them.

Rights

North American publisher: Public Affairs

World English rights: Public Affairs, Isabelle Bleecker (Isabelle.Bleecker@perseusbooks.com)

Translation rights: The Marsh Agency

Jessica Woollard (jessica@marsh-agency.co.uk) for the United Kingdom

Camilla Ferrier (Camilla@marsh-agency.co.uk) for Arabic World, Bulgaria, China, Germany, Hungary, Indonesia, Israel, Italy*, Japan, The Netherlands**, Russia, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam

Jemma McDonagh (Jemma@marsh-agency.co.uk) for Baltic States, Brazil, Croatia, Czech Rupublic, France, Greece, Iceland, Italy**, Korea, The Netherlands*, Poland, Romania, Scandinavia, Serbia, Slovenia, Slovak Republic, Turkey

*Fiction
**Non-fiction

Translation rights sold: Japanese to Kodansha; German to Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag; Korean to Hyeonamsa Publishing Co.

Film rights contact: Gillian MacKenzie (gmackenzie@gillianmackenzieagency.com)

Reviews

2012 Pulitzer Prize Finalist

2012 Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist

Best of 2011 by The Wall Street Journal

Best of 2011 by Slate

"Must-Read" of 2011 by Discover Magazine

 

Unnatural Selection reads like a great historical detective story, and it’s written with the sense of moral urgency that usually accompanies the revelation of some kind of enormous crime.” The New York Times


“Ms. Hvistendahl is a first-rate reporter and has filled Unnatural Selection with gripping details ... There is so much to recommend.” The Wall Street Journal


“Massively well-documented ... [Hvistendahl] has written a disturbing, engrossing book.”Washington Post


"A hard-hitting, eye-opening study that not only paints a dire future of a world without girls but traces the West’s role in propagating sex selection ... Hvistendahl’s important, even-handed exposé considers all sides of the argument and deserves careful attention and study." Kirkus Reviews


“Provocative, wide-ranging ... A thoughtful, smartly researched overview of medical developments, policymaking, and cultural trends that combined to upset the global sex ratio.” Bloomberg


“Brave, well researched, and imminently controversial ... From the distant vista of the West, where we don’t really consider what it would mean to have an only son who can never find a mate, the unbalanced sex ratio in Asia may seem like relatively small news. This remarkable book goes a long way to bringing the pain and the urgency of the issue home. Mara Hvistendahl is not just entering an important conversation, she’s starting one.” The Globe and Mail


"Yes, it’s a rigorous exploration of the world’s 'missing women,' but it’s more than that too: an extraordinarily vivid look at the implications of the problem. Hvistendahl writes beautifully, with an eye for detail but also the big picture. She has a fierce intelligence but, more important, a fierce intellectual independence; she writes with a hard edge but no venom—rather, a cool and hard passion." —Stephen J. Dubner, author of Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics


Unnatural Selection is an important book and a fascinating read. Mara Hvistendahl is a delightful writer: witty, engaging, and acute. But the tale she tells is deeply disturbing. Asia alone is missing ­­ 160 million women and girls, a number equal  to the entire female population of the United States. According to Hvistendahl, the culprit is less deeply rooted cultural gender bias than rising wealth, elite attitudes, and Western influence and technology. Development, at least for the coming decades, will produce not only fewer children overall, but also many fewer girls. The result is a future for many parts of the world, from India to China, Azerbaijan to Albania, where brides are much more likely to be bought, women are much more likely to be trafficked, and men are much more likely to be frustrated. For the present, we must confront the stark reality that the availability of ultrasound and ready abortion are sharply reducing the number of women in the world.” —Anne-Marie Slaughter, professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton

 

"A fascinating and thoroughly researched book on a most important subject. The staggering population imbalances described by Hvistendahl should be of concern to all." —Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide