Equality for Women = Prosperity for All: The Disastrous Global Crisis of Gender Inequality

Equality for Women = Prosperity for All: The Disastrous Global Crisis of Gender Inequality

by Augusto Lopez-Claros, Bahiyyih Nakhjavani


View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for delivery by Thursday, May 13


A groundbreaking book about the direct relationship between a woman's rights and freedoms and the economic prosperity of her country.

"The authors speak to hearts as well as minds." —Maud de Boer Buquicchio, UN Special Rapporteur

“Not only timely but profoundly important—a must-read." Jackie Jones, Professor of Feminist Legal studies

Gender discrimination is often seen from a human rights perspective; it is a violation of women’s basic human rights, as embedded in the Universal Declaration, the UN Charter and other such founding documents. Moreover, there is overwhelming evidence that restrictions and various forms of discrimination against women are also bad economics. They undermine the talent pool available to the private sector, they distort power relationships within the family and lead to inefficiencies in the use of resources. They contribute to create an environment in which women, de facto, are second class citizens, with fewer options than men, lower quality jobs, lower pay, often the victims of various forms of violence, literally from the cradle to the grave. They are also not fully politically empowered and have scant presence in the corridors of power, whether as finance ministers, central bank governors, prime ministers or on the boards of leading corporations. Why is gender inequality so pervasive? Where does it come from? Does it have cultural and religious roots? And what are the sorts of policies and values that will deliver a world in which being born a boy or a girl is no longer a measure of the likelihood of developing one’s human potential?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250051189
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/30/2018
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

AUGUSTO LOPEZ-CLAROS is currently a Senior Fellow at the School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University and was previously the Director of Global Indicators at the World Bank and Chief Economist at the World Economic Forum in Geneva. He has lectured in recent years at some of the world’s leading universities and think-tanks.

BAHIYYIH NAKHJAVANI is an Iranian writer with a multicultural background. An award-winning author of Us & Them, a novel about the Iranian diaspora, The Woman Who Read Too Much and The Saddlebag, an international bestseller, she now lives and works in France.

Read an Excerpt



Numbers tell us, quietly, a terrible story of inequality and neglect.


When we see extremely skewed demographics, we have very good reason to suspect that something is wrong.



Let us try to keep a measured tone and talk politely about this subject, if we can. The naked truth is that after centuries of denial, we are finally acknowledging what might be called a predilection for sons in certain societies. That is to say, we are now ready to admit that many people, from various cultural backgrounds and across a wide spectrum of ages, have preferred to have baby boys rather than girls. This is one of the most disturbing and age-old manifestations of gender discrimination in the world and is accompanied by its dark double, the rejection of daughters.

Where have all the women gone, and what has happened to our girls?

There are bound to be missing factors in any assessment of what are the drivers of human prosperity. It is difficult to analyze exhaustively how these factors can weaken the fabric of society, or in what ways, for instance, discriminatory labor laws can jeopardize economic growth. But of all the absent elements in this analysis, none is as significant as leaving women out of it altogether.

There was a time when leaving women out of the records was the norm in both East and West. Most women in history, unless they happened to be queens or empresses, notorious prostitutes or apostates, were not considered a significant part of any equation. We learn of the missing through paintings and through literature, through private letters and personal objects, like thimbles, spindles, spoons, and lace. But history rarely gave us the identities of the users. The triumphs and tragedies of half the human race were all too easily obliterated.

But we have become better at keeping track of the missing in our own times. It is possible to maintain records of our losses in undreamed-of ways today. Instead of writing elegies read by few or private diary entries intended for none, we now mourn the missing publicly, litter the window fronts of post offices with photos of lost cats and dogs, and stick the faces of our children on the lampposts of city streets, to advertise their disappearances. And there may be darker reasons too for remembering. Massacres have left their bloody traces on the pages of history. Holocausts and genocides must not be forgotten if they are not to be repeated, even after years of political amnesia and denial. And we have discovered that forensic science can pursue war crimes into their graves and bring their perpetrators to court at last. We have learned to memorialize the missing in order to bear witness to their rights as well as to recall their names.

The erasure of half the human race surpasses designation, however; it is beyond calculation. It was not until this century that the missing women of the world began to be evaluated by society. Decades before the extremist group called Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls in Chibouk, northern Nigeria, in April 2014, the Nobel Prize–winning economist and philosopher Amartya Sen brought the problem of missing girls to international attention. In his 1990 article in the New York Review of Books and a subsequent editorial he submitted to the British Medical Journal (1992), he noted that "son preference" may have resulted in as many as 100 million missing women worldwide. Sen arrived at this terrifying estimate by initially looking at the seemingly anodyne ratio of women to men in societies where both sexes received broadly equal health care and medical attention. He then assessed the number of extra women who ought to have been alive in a particular period in countries where women faced a number of disadvantages. Eleven years later, Sen (2003) reported that some reductions in female mortality worldwide had been "counterbalanced by a new female disadvantage ... through sex specific abortions aimed against the female fetus" (p. 1297). In other words, in certain countries, females were undergoing a kind of prenatal gendercide.

These are harsh terms, but they are, unfortunately, supported by the facts. A cursory glance at male/female ratios over the last century alone shows some disturbing trends in demographics. The United Nations' World Population Prospects 2015 indicates that in 2015, 50.4 percent of the world's population was male, meaning there were some 101.8 males for every 100 females. In other words, there was a marked male advantage over the female population at this time, which means there are more men alive today than women. But the opposite should be true. It has been well established, in societies that provide broadly equal health care and nutrition to both sexes, that male mortality rates are usually higher than female ones, and there is a natural female mortality advantage in all age groups across the globe. In other words, given half a chance and the same opportunities, the norm would be for women to live longer, survive better, and overcome crises more easily than men. If our current male/female ratios indicate the opposite, therefore, if statistics show a reverse trend in the population at this time, we have to wonder why.

It should be noted that the current masculinity ratio reflects a global average; it spans different parts of the world and disguises substantial regional differences. For example, there is currently a very low ratio of 88.8 males for every 100 females in Eastern Europe, but a higher ratio of 97.9 to 98.4 in North America and up to 104.8 men for every 100 women in Asia. These differences, in turn, reflect the variations of the male/female ratio at birth and contrasting mortality rates in different countries. Such ratios can also fluctuate according to a wide range of factors, from cultural differences to forced migration. Ansley J. Coale (1991), one of America's most distinguished demographers, pointed out, for instance, that in the late nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century, immigration to the United States was large and predominantly male. This had pushed the sex ratio up by 1910 to 1.06 males for every female. However, as the proportion of foreign-born citizens in the United States fell sharply in succeeding decades, the sex ratio also fell.

World wars as well as migration have created serious imbalances in populations too, and these also need to be taken into consideration. According to the 1897 census in Russia, for example, the male/female ratio was 1.001, but by 1946, under the burden of revolutions and world wars, there were only 77.3 men in the Soviet Union for every 100 women. Large declines in the male population were also observed in the aftermath of World War II in both Japan and Germany. But given these facts as well as the expected norms, what has led to the current predominance of men in the world? Why, despite recent anomalies caused by war and migration and the natural mortality advantage allowing for a higher ratio of women to men, are there more males than females on the planet today?

It is time to ask some serious questions about the missing women of the world. Where are they? What has happened to them? Are women in the early twenty-first century paying with their lives for the bloodletting on the battlefields of the twentieth century? Is the real Third World War being waged against women today? Even if "gendercide" is too strong a word to use, it may no longer be necessary to be quite so polite about "son preference."


Before addressing the more chilling aspects of our collective response to these questions, it must be admitted, from the outset, that the numbers of missing women are particularly high in China and India. In a study published in the British Medical Journal in 2009, Wei Xing Zhu, Li Lu, and Therese Hesketh focused on China's excess males, noting that, historically, preference for sons has been manifest postnatally through female infanticide and the neglect and abandonment of girls. Where this persists, it is mainly due to lack of access to necessary medical care. However, since the early 1980s, it has become possible to select males prenatally with ultrasonographic sex determination, and as a result, sex-selective abortion has become possible. This technology is now widely available in many countries, contributing to the emergence of high sex ratios from birth. The highest sex ratios are found where there is a combination of preference for sons, easy access to sex-selective technology, and a low fertility rate due to government restrictions. In these countries, the birth of girls must be prevented to allow for the desired number of sons within the allotted family size.

Zhu, Lu, and Hesketh report that for Chinese children born during the period 2000 to 2004, the overall sex ratios clearly indicated "son preference" across all age groups; they were high across virtually all regions with the exception of Tibet. They were highest in the one- to four-year age group, with a ratio of 1.24 more boys than girls, rising to 1.26 in rural areas. The latest UN data for China (2015) shows a sex ratio in the zero to one year age group of 1.15 more boys than girls, compared to 1.08 in 1990 and 1.04 in 1970.

In India, the data show a similar upward trend. In the northwest of the subcontinent, in 1991, there was only one district where the sex ratio showing son preference was in excess of 1.25, but by 2001, the number of districts showing similarly disturbing imbalances had risen to forty-six. The overall national average, moreover, had risen to a ratio of almost 1.08 more men than women, the highest it had been since 1961. But the latest census data for 2011 show an even further rise in the national average to 1.09, with the states of Haryana (1.20), Punjab (1.18), and Delhi (1.15) still showing particularly high ratios. We can see worrying signs in these statistics. According to an article in The Economist (2015), the consequences of the gender imbalance in India and China are likely to last for decades and will probably become worse before getting any better: "It will take the two countries with their combined population of 2.6 billion — a third of humanity — into uncharted territory." Even a casual reader of such ominous warnings can recognize that something is very wrong. The drive to eradicate women and girls in certain countries will have devastating social consequences.

A 2010 study released by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences noted that the shortage of young women threatens to become so critical that within a mere ten years, it is very probable that one in five young men in China will not be able to find a bride.

"If China had had a normal sex ratio at birth, there would have been 721 million girls and women living in 2010, according to a report in 2012 by the United Nations (UN) Population Fund. In fact, there were only 655 million women alive that year — a difference of 66 million, or 10 percent of the female population," is how The Economist puts it. In other words, according to researchers Ebenstein and Sharygin (2009, p. 402), China is on the cusp of a major social crisis due to the "dramatic deterioration in men's marital prospects."

According to this same study, there will be some 30 to 40 million more young Chinese men than women aged nineteen and under by the year 2020, and for every 100 marriageable women during the four years between 2050 and 2054, there could be as many as 186 single men. This extreme imbalance, in a population roughly twice as large as the entire young male population of Germany, France, and the United Kingdom combined, carries serious implications.

In India, the corresponding estimates, which are also very worrying, suggest an excess of some 28 million males. There was a 9.2 million rise in the number of Indian men aged twenty-five to twenty-nine between 2000 and 2010. The numbers of Indian women who could marry them, in their early twenties, rose by only 7.6 million, however. According to The Economist (2015), "Even if India's sex ratio at birth were to return to normal and stay there, by 2050 the country would still have 30 percent more single men hoping to marry than single women," a dangerously high number. Christophe Guilmoto, senior fellow in demography at the French Institute for Development Research, claims that assuming no change in the sex ratio at birth, "the peak could be even higher" by 2060 to 2064, in fact almost double, with 191 men for every 100 women. Even if the sex ratio were to return to normal by 2020, Guilmoto believes "the marriage squeeze would still be severe, peaking at 160 in China in 2030, and at 164 in India 20 years later."

The consequences for women in these countries could be appalling and the social implications of this imbalance will certainly affect the rest of the world as well. But although it has proven traditionally difficult to address the problem, its cause is absurdly easy to identify. It is due to what Amartya Sen has called "son preference" in certain societies, which in other, less politically correct terminology is simply a war against women.

The time has come to account for the missing in this war.


There is no simple answer to the question of why societies prefer sons. Many reasons have been given for why some cultures retain a preference for sons; many explanations have been put forward to show how this preference has brought about the phenomenon of missing women. But the most obvious and endemic of the reasons is the prevalence of patriarchal family systems in many countries. This age-old tradition has served to marginalize women for millennia and is at the root of the phenomenon of missing women in the world today.

When patriarchal values are embedded in religious traditions and sanctioned as divinely ordained, they are very hard to eradicate. Ebenstein (2006, p. 6) points to the possible role of Confucian values in Chinese society, which clearly relegated women to a secondary role even during the Communist era. These values, which are being specifically evoked by the leadership of the country today, are betrayed by the maxim "The perfect woman must obey her parents when a child, her husband when a wife, and her son when a widow." But China's ancient belief systems are not the only ones that convey this same idea. Similar statements have been exploited in Jewish, Islamic, and even Christian religions to maintain the patriarchal systems in the West, both in the past and in the present, leaving lasting traces of "son preference" even in the most seemingly advanced societies.

Traditional Hindu laws, too, exemplify to what a degree patriarchy has economic implications in India, where there is a critical need to pay dowries for daughters in order to offset the fact that a woman cannot, according to religious beliefs, inherit property. Sons in such cultures are valued as the source of wealth and long-term security, whereas daughters are naturally a liability, a potential for debt. Surveys in China and India also point to the perceived advantage of bringing sons into the world to do the backbreaking work on family farms and to provide old-age support to parents. This is particularly important in those countries with seriously inadequate levels of social protection for the elderly and the physical as well as financial dependence of older generations on the younger ones.

But patriarchy is manifest in political ideology as well as through religion and culture; it can have social as well as economic reasons, all of which play a role in the mystery of missing women in the world. Nor are the age-old traditions of infanticide the only ways in which "son preference" has been maintained. Programs such as China's rigorous one-child policy, first introduced in 1979, imposed a compulsory reduction in fertility on the population and provided powerful incentives, both medical and financial, for parents to engage in sex selection in order to ensure the birth of a son. Scientific progress does not erase our prejudices; it simply makes it easier for us to implement them.

The following pages will show how patriarchal customs and patrilineal lines of kinship play an important role in "son preference." They will also explore how ancestor worship has led certain cultures to believe that the fewer girls there are in a family, the better for its name, fame, wealth, and power, in both this world and the next. The reasons why there are far higher mortality rates for girls than boys during early childhood may underscore the causes for the missing women in the world.


A key factor in explaining the preference for sons in certain societies is the rigidity of patrilineal kinship systems. In countries where this problem is most pronounced, the main assets that provide the foundation of the family's finances are passed through the male line only. This practice sharply limits the ability of women to sustain themselves outside the orbit of a man. In some instances, women do not have equal rights to inherit money; in others, they are unlikely to inherit land. Whatever the circumstances, they invariably symbolize an economic burden to the family. Strenuous efforts will be made, therefore, to maintain the male line, by adopting sons from the father's male relatives, if necessary, or by the head of the household taking a second wife or concubine. Wherever patrilineal kinship is the norm, the negative consequence to a woman's quality of life is considered less significant than the perceived costs to the family.

A girl's primary responsibility, therefore, is to produce sons who would allow for the continuation of the family line and the stability of the patrilineal social order. In rural China, Korea, and parts of northwest India, the normal practice is for a girl to marry outside her village and to leave her own family in order to join that of her husband. This process, moreover, is nearly irreversible. In other words, it is very difficult — if the marriage fails — for a girl to return to her parental home. Her "place" in the family will have been taken and her notional land entitlement is likely to have been assigned to others, including incoming brides from other villages. Thus, a rigid, male- based social order has dire implications for the well-being of women and girls. Das Gupta et al. (2003, p. 11) note that "parents are under much social pressure to ensure that their daughters marry, as evidenced by the negligible proportions of women never married in their thirties in the censuses of these countries. Daughters must leave and make way for incoming daughters-in-law." This is the case even if it means marrying undesirable or otherwise unsuitable partners.


Excerpted from "Equality For Women = Prosperity For All"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Augusto López-Claros and Bahiyyih Nakhjavani.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Introduction 1

1 The People Problem 15

2 The Virus of Violence 48

3 Women and Work 89

4 The Culture Question 127

5 Rights and Wrongs 161

6 Education for Equality 202

7 The Costs of Inequality 232

Notes 255

Bibliography 275

Index 303

Customer Reviews