Research Suggests Reasons for Deaths of 100-200 Million Women
Tuesday, June 9, 2009 11:11 AM

Recent research indicates multiple possible causes for the disappearance of millions of women, or "missing women," worldwide. The term “missing women” describes women who are dead in excess of natural mortality rates, as compared to males. Since an article by Amartya Sen appeared in 1990 which revealed that approximately 100 million women are missing worldwide, the UN has estimated that as many as 200 million women are missing.  Researchers Siwan Anderson and Debraj Ray recently wrote a paper detailing their findings after studying rates of “missing women” in India, China, and Sub-Saharan Africa. 

Anderson and Ray found that female mortality rates in excess of the norm in India, China, and Sub-Saharan Africa are due largely to deaths that occur later in life, contrary to previous thought. While the researchers acknowledge that infanticide and abortions targeting female fetuses are a significant cause of missing women, they argue that two-thirds of missing women in India die at an age older than 15, and 80% of missing women in Sub-Saharan Africa die at an age older than 15. 

According to the paper, the causes of excess of female deaths as compared to male deaths are different in each country studied. The paper’s calculation of missing women in India revealed that in 2000, “injuries” caused 86,000 excess deaths in women between the ages of 15 and 29.  Anderson is concerned that these figures may be due to dowry-related violence.

The dowry is a traditional practice in Hindu marriage, involving the payment of money or other valuable property from the parents of the bride to the family of the groom. Dowries may be several times a family’s annual income, so the birth of a daughter is a serious financial commitment that some choose to avoid by aborting female fetuses.

Dowry abuse occurs when the groom’s family tortures the bride until successful payment of a dowry debt is achieved. The most well-known form of dowry abuse is bride burning, a practice in which the bride is lit on fire in the kitchen of her in-law's home. Though Anderson suspects dowry abuse is a significant cause of missing women in India, he says his claim is difficult to support as dowry-related deaths are not reported as such to the authorities.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, HIV/AIDS caused a vast majority of the excess deaths of females. The study shows that women die of disease at higher rates than men primarily because of unequal access to health care. The study also revealed that most of the injury-related excess deaths of women in China are caused by suicide, making China the only nation in the world where women are more likely to commit suicide than men.   

Compiled from: Nicole Baute, "How Did 100,000,000 Women Disappear?," The Star (06 June 2009); Siwan Anderson and Debraj Ray,  "Missing Women: Age and Disease" (23 February 2009);  Tim Sullivan, "India Dowry Violence on the Rise," The San Diego Union-Tribune (July 25, 2004).