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Analysis of Sansad TV Discussion : ”Positive Growth In The Sex Ratio Of India”


  • The fifth edition of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) confirmed signs of a demographic shift in India.
  • For the first time since the NFHS began in 1992, the proportion of women exceeded men: there were 1,020 women for 1,000 men.
  • In the last edition of the survey in 2015-16, there were 991 women for every 1,000 men.
  • The fifth National Family Health Survey (NFHS), from where this data comes, has also found that the sex ratio is better in rural areas compared to urban centres.
  • Urban India has a sex ratio of 985 in the latest edition of NFHS while that of rural India was 1,037 women for 1,000 men.
  • But if one takes the sex ratio at birth for children born in the last five years — 929 girls for 1,000 boys – there is not much to cheer about though it is an increase from the previous survey held in 2015-16.

State-wise Trend

  • Most states and Union Territories (UTs) had more women than men, the NFHS-5 shows.
  • States that had fewer women than men included Gujarat, Maharashtra, Arunachal Pradesh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Union territories such as Jammu & Kashmir, Chandigarh, Delhi, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, and Ladakh.
  • Among the big states, Punjab (938), Gujarat (965), Maharashtra (966) and Madhya Pradesh (970) were among 12 states and union territories where women were fewer than men.
  • Kerala has the highest sex ratio at 1,121 (up from 1,049 in NFHS-4) followed by Tamil Nadu (1,088) among bigger states.

Why such an increase in the overall sex ratio?

The increase in the overall sex ratio is a combination of increased life expectancy of women and improvement in the sex ratio at birth or the number of female births for every 1,000 male births.

Is it a big achievement?

  • The headline number does not present a complete picture. The sex ratio at birth for the country was still 929 females per male — an improvement from 919 in 2015-16, but still lower than the natural standard of 952 female births per 1,000 male births.
  • So, this survey also has to be seen from the perspective of sex ratio at birth for children born in the last five years.
  • There the figures are not enthusiastic, showing a preference for sons over daughters.
  • According to the NFHS-5, the sex ratio at birth for children born in the last five years is 924 in urban and 931 in rural. The
  • The overall score (929) is an improvement from 919 in the NFHS-4.

The sex ratio at birth has declined in a few states

  • The Sex ratio at birth is the number of female children born per 1,000 male children born.
  • Analysis indicates that 19 states/UTs had a lower sex ratio than the natural standard, and the sex ratio at birth was more skewed in urban areas than rural centres.
  • Twenty-nine states had a lower sex ratio at birth than the natural standard in urban areas as compared to 21 states that had worse than natural standards in rural areas.
  • The Sex ratio at birth for children born in the last five years is below 950 for seven (of the 17) states.
  • In three states, the ratio is below 900 (Goa: 838, Himachal Pradesh: 875, and Telangana: 894).
  • The ratio has declined in seven states.
  • The most notable decline was in Goa (from 966 to 838), and Kerala (from 1,047 to 951).
  • Only Tripura has a sex ratio at birth above 1,000 (i.e., more females born than males).

Does a decline in sex ratio at birth signify a worsening of sex ratio going forward?

  • Not necessarily, as the Sex ratio at birth and overall sex ratio differ by virtue of migration streams.
  • So it cannot be directly drawn from a declining sex ratio at birth that the overall sex ratio will also remain skewed moving forward.
  • For example, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Chandigarh, Chhattisgarh and Ladakh witnessed a decline in sex ratios compared to 2015-16, while Lakshadweep saw it improve to 1,187 from 1,022. The sex ratio for Delhi increased 59 in favour of females during this period.

Way Forward

  • While gender ratio has, for the first time, recorded more women per 1,000 men, the gender ratio at birth in the last five years still underlines the persistence of a deep-rooted son preference, one that has to be countered, through policy and law.
  • Only the decadal census is considered the official marker of population trends in India and has a wider surveillance programme. The NFHS surveys are smaller but are conducted at the district level and are a pointer to the future.
  • However, sex ratio at birth for children born in the last five years only improved from 919 per 1,000 males in 2015-16 to 929 per 1,000, underscoring that boys, on average, continued to have better odds of survival than girls.
  • A State-wise breakup of the NFHS data also shows that India is on its way to stabilising its population, with most States and UTs having a Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of less than two. A TFR of less than 2.1, or a woman on average bearing two children over a lifetime, suggests that an existing generation of people will be exactly replaced.
  • Anything less than two suggests an eventual decline in population over time.
  • Only six states: Bihar, Meghalaya, Manipur, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh have a TFR above two. Bihar has a TFR of three which, however, is an improvement from the 3.4 of the NFHS-4.
  • Again, much like the broader trend towards feminisation, the TFR in all States has improved in the last five years.

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