A Turning Point in Gender Bias in Mortality? An Update on the Number of Missing Women



Amartya Sen started a debate about gender bias in mortality by estimating the number of “missing women,” which refers to the number of females of any age who have presumably died as a result of discriminatory treatment. Depending on the assumptions made, the combined estimates for countries exhibiting the presence of such gender bias varied between 60 and 107 million. As new population data have become available for these countries, this article examines whether the number of “missing women” has changed in the past decade. The combined estimate of the number of missing women has risen in absolute terms but has fallen slightly in relation to overall population. Considerable improvement is evident in West Asia, North Africa, and parts of South Asia, while only small improvements have occurred in India and a deterioration took place in China. Analyses of the underlying causes of gender bias in mortality suggest that improvements are largely related to improved female education and employment opportunities and rising overall incomes, while deterioration is mostly attributable to the rising incidence of sex-selective abortions.