In his article last Thursday, William Saletan highlighted sex selection’s apparent arrival to American shores. He writes:

Now comes further evidence of this effect. Two days ago, economists Douglas Almond and Lena Edlund published an article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examining the ratio of male to female births in “U.S.-born children of Chinese, Korean, and Asian Indian parents.” Among whites, the boy-girl ratio was essentially constant, regardless of the number of kids in a family or how many of them were girls. In the Asian-American sample, the boy-girl ratio started out at the same norm: 1.05 to 1. But among families whose first child was a girl, the boy-girl ratio among second kids went up to 1.17 to 1. And if the first two kids were girls, the boy-girl ratio among third kids went up to 1.5 to 1. This 50 percent increase in male probability is directly contrary to the trend among whites, who tend to produce a child of the same sex as the previous child.

There’s no plausible innocent explanation for this enormous and directionally abnormal shift in probability. The authors conclude that the numbers are “evidence of sex selection, most likely at the prenatal stage.”

While Wesley Smith rightly nails Saletan for his gross misunderstanding of the pro-life position and its purported dependence upon patriarchy, Saletan’s analysis is interesting for its emphasis on the privatization of sex selection that has occurred because of technological improvements.

If you look at sex selection as a cultural phenomenon, that may be true. But if you look at it as a technology, the opposite is just as plausible. The spread of fetal or embryonic sex-identification tests, which can be taken in the privacy of your home at increasingly early stages of pregnancy, makes it easier for sex selection to spread beyond its original cultural base. So does the emergence of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, which lets you chuck your conceived offspring before pregnancy even begins.

The phenomenon mirrors that of pornography, the access to which Jason Byassee astutely points out has become increasingly privatized through the internet. While technology is often hailed as helping us connect–airplanes, cars, email, etc.–there is something isolating about it as well. When used by individuals, for the sake of individuals, it has a potentially corrosive impact in that it empowers people to achieve pleasures in isolation, which removes their need for human community.

It is easy to see how such a line of thought could descend into techno-phobia, but there is no reason for it to. Better to simply acknowledge the dangers and take steps to overcome them–steps that may include improving current technologies.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. Doesn’t it seem just a bit appalling that killing a baby because of its gender is rolled up in the nice clinical term of “sex selection”? I had to read the article to make sure that what we are actually talking about is killing the “wrong” gendered baby. I’ve always thought it strange that the supposedly feminist position is abortion at any time for any reason, because whenever gender enters into the equation, its usually girls that are being killed in far higher ratios (as this data proves – as much as 50% higher rates for 3rd kids).


  2. Matthew Lee Anderson April 9, 2008 at 9:10 pm


    You make a great point about the semantics of the issue. Pretty repugnant–I wish I hadn’t slipped into that usage myself.


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