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China faces future as land of boys

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The city tabloids loved it when Chinese pop singer Na Ying got pregnant this spring. But the real buzz came once it leaked that Ms. Na, who lives with a famous former soccer player, took an ultrasound exam and let on that she is expecting a boy.

Gossip columns ran side by side with official editorials stating that Ms. Na's ultrasound was illegal - even if done only for curiosity.

Na's test came amid new efforts in China, including a ban on ultrasound tests, to reduce the country's increasing gender imbalance. The "one child" policy and an old cultural preference for male heirs have encouraged use of ultrasounds to identify and abort female fetuses.

In the past two decades in China, female births have declined markedly compared with male births. The official figure - which some say is slightly low - is 117 boys for every 100 girls, based on a 2000 census. In ordinary populations, the split is closer to 104 boys for every 100 girls. Skewed sex ratios are also appearing elsewhere in Asia, particularly India, where the ratio in the state of Punjab is 126 to 100. A tilt toward male births is also beginning to be 126 to 100. A tilt toward male births is also beginning to be seen in the Caucasus and parts of Latin America and Eastern Europe.

In the case of China, social scientists are talking about a future in which 15 percent of men won't have wives. According to Asia expert Nicholas Eberstadt, the trend, termed the "marriage squeeze," is an anthropological phenomenon partly due to China's "one child" policy that began in 1978 with the intent of slowing growth in the world's most populous country.

"The world has never before seen the likes of the bride shortage that will be unfolding in China in the decades ahead," writes Mr. Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute, in a recent study, "Power and Population in Asia."

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