There has never been a day ever since I returned when I’ve not thought about rape. Most of it is about waking up everyday to news about rape in the country. But I’m an alarmist by nature and just like that, I also spend a lot of my waking life ensuring I don’t say or do something that might piss off the Average Indian Virile Man - the rickshaw driver, the watchman, the newspaper vendor, other virile men lurking in the corners as friends, foes, countrymen. Friends and relatives share their stories about rape and sexual harassment and police who counter an attempt to file a complaint against the rapist with “We will counter it saying you were a prostitute”, the mother worries incessantly. As one can imagine, there is a lot stress brought on by some seemingly unnecessary worrying.
When Appu took over watchman duties at the apartment complex, I pegged him as quite a creep and made sure K knew what I thought. One Saturday morning, he came around to deliver a package, rang the bell and as I walked to get the door, I could hear him trying it. I could see him trying it. Why would the watchman try the door to my apartment? It didn’t matter if I was in or not. A few days later, a friend was dropping me home and as she pulled into the building, Appu yelled at us for blocking the gate. “Kya Appu, kyon chilla rahe ho?” I yelled back adding that he routinely allows rickshaws to park in front of the gate, what’s the harm in a car stopping for a few minutes while I get off.
This was also the time a lawyer was raped and murdered by her apartment’s security guard in Mumbai. I then spent inordinate amounts of time worrying about Appu plotting his revenge for insulting his masculinity, etc. K spoke to Appu asking him never to deliver any packages at home - “Madam will pick them up from you downstairs”, spoke to my neighbor Renu about the incident and chewed off all my fingernails out of fear.
When the story broke out about the gang rape in Delhi that caused nation wide outrage, I asked on Twitter and Quora: Is there a correlation between sex ratio and the rapes in a country? The sex ratio in India as per the 2011 census is 940 females per 1000 males. Does this have an impact on the incidence of rapes in the country?
The Gender Gulf
CNN did a story about the gender gulf in China in November 2012. Here is what the gender gulf looks like for China:
What does the Gender Gulf look like in India?
I couldn’t find a Population Projection report published as per the 2011 census but I did find a Population Projections for India and the States 2001-2026 published in 2001 (PDF) As with most government data in India, none of it is available in an easily downloadable format. It’s all tucked away in PDFs and printed copies.
First, the numbers.
Going by the projections, the gender gap in India as projected for Year 2020 stands at 3.61% while China’s projected to have a gender gap of 3.75%. The future is as bleak for India if you go by what the CNN story says about China:
Young men with poor prospects of ever starting a family spell danger to themselves and to their societies. Over millions of years of evolution, large numbers of women and even larger numbers of men left no offspring at all. Yet everyone alive today descends from ancestors who managed to avoid that fate. Our male ancestors were the ones who strove most frantically for status and the respect of their peers, and who won the chance to mate.
As a result, young men are hair-trigger sensitive to their circumstances, and when the number of men who will never find a mate rises, so does the intensity of the striving. Young men discount their futures and take ridiculous risks in order to improve their prospects. They also become more violent, rising more readily to perceived slights and insults, and starting more fights – often over trivial issues. These are the triggers for most man-on-man assaults and homicides.
Many factors contribute to the number of men who will never find a mate. Economic inequality, for one, leaves a great many poor young men unable to attract a wife. When a society allows powerful men to take several wives, too few women remain for many poor men to take even a single wife. But most dramatically of all, male-biased sex ratios consign the excess men to never having a family of their own.
Under each of these scenarios, large numbers of young men competing for dominance elevate local rates of violence, homicide and lawlessness. Martin Daly and Margo Wilson’s studies show that local income inequality can explain variation in homicide rates on a number of scales: from Chicago neighborhoods to American States and Canadian provinces.
Throughout history, a surplus of young men often heralded violence. The American frontier earned its “Wild West” reputation for lawlessness because its towns overflowed with men, yet marriageable women were vanishingly rare. In The Chivalrous Society, historian Georges Duby argued that European expansionism, from the Crusades to colonialism, was fueled by a surplus of ambitious and aggressive young men with otherwise poor reproductive prospects.
China is already feeling the effects of so many bare branches. The economist Lena Edlund estimates that every one percent increase in the sex ratio results in a six percent increase in the rates of violent and property crime. In addition, the parts of China with the most male-biased sex ratios are experiencing a variety of other maladies, all tied to the presence of too many young men. Gambling, alcohol and drug abuse, kidnapping and trafficking of women are rising steeply in China.
Every December, the Edge.org asks writers and scientists to ponder a single question. As the world readied to spin into another year, the question for 2013 read: What *should* we be worried about?
Here’s what Robert Kurzban, Evolutionary Psychologist from UPenn says in the response titled, All the T in China:
Anthropologists have documented a consistent historical pattern: when the sex ratio skews in the direction of a smaller proportion of females, men become increasingly competitive, becoming more likely to engage in risky, short-term oriented behavior including gambling, drug abuse, and crime. This sort of pattern fits well with the rest of the biological world. Decades of work in behavioral ecology has shown that in species in which there is substantial variation in mating success among males, males compete especially fiercely.
The precise details of the route from a biased sex ratio to anti-social behavior in humans is not thoroughly understood, but one possible physiological link is that remaining unmarried increases levels of testosterone—often simply referred to as “T"—which in turn influences decision making and behavior.
Should all this T in China be a cause for worry?
The differences between societies that allow polygyny and those that don’t are potentially illustrative. In societies with polygamy, there are, for obvious reasons, larger numbers of unmarried men than in societies that prohibit polygyny. These unmarried men compete for the remaining unmarried women, which includes a greater propensity to violence and engaging in more criminal behavior than their married counterparts. Indeed, cross-national research shows a consistent relationship between imbalanced sex ratios and rates of violent crime. The higher the fraction of unmarried men in a population, the greater the frequency of theft, fraud, rape, and murder. The size of these effects are non-trivial: Some estimates suggest marriage reduces the likelihood of criminal behavior by as much as one half.
Further, relatively poor unmarried men, historically, have formed associations with other unmarried men, using force to secure resources they otherwise would be unable to obtain.
While increasing crime and violence in Asian countries with imbalanced sex ratios is a reason to worry in itself, the issue is not only the potential victims of crimes that might occur because of the sex ratio imbalance. Evidence indicates that surpluses of unmarried young men have measurable economic effects, lowering per capita GDP.
An increasing gender gap, high crime rates, lower GDP and considerable social unrest. Any country that shows a systematic preference for boys would face a similar situation. India, are you listening?