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Unnatural Selection, Part II: A Review

abortion, Asia, crime, economics, family, marriage, men, monogamy, polygamy, pro-life, world population No comments
By MARRI Interns
Mara Hvistendahl’s latest book, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, is a riveting book full of anecdotes that are simultaneously heartbreaking and revelatory of our global opinions toward the value of life, marriage, and women. From the anti-romance of the East China Sea economy of wife trafficking, wherein Asian airports are the inauspicious meeting places of future loving couples, to the yuppie dream of Southern California fertility clinics, wherein a woman can be artificially impregnated during her lunch hour, to the unnervingly nonchalant disposal of aborted fetuses in India, the anecdotes shared in Unnatural Selection reveal a global confusion about the value of baby girls.

Yet, this tome is not the product of an opponent of abortion. Hvistendahl herself admits in the preface that she endorses abortion even though “the finer points of the abortion debate elude me.” She then resorts to this redoubt of agnosticism in order to withhold her judgment on a practice whose ramifications she lambasts on every page: “Since I refuse to venture a guess at when life begins, this is not a book about death and killing… but about the potential for life—and denying that potential to the very group responsible for perpetuating our beleaguered species.”

With this preface, thus begins Hvistendahl’s 300-page endeavor to elucidate the defining demographic dynamic of our day—the global paucity of women and its attendant social disturbances. She primarily investigates the effects of this demographic inequality in Asia, where the social sciences display unanimously pernicious effects of the lack of women, including a rise in violent crime. Studies across China show “a clear link between a large share of males and unlawfulness, concluding a mere 1 percent increase in sex ratio at birth resulted in a five to six point increase in an area’s crime rate.” Nor are these trends confined only to China: “The best way to predict whether a certain part of India has a high murder rate, indeed, is to look at its sex ratio.” Bachelors report generally lower standards of living than married men, culminating in poorer physical and mental health, and a shorter lifespan. 

By increasing the rate of crime, the sex selection bias against women thus creates a social dynamic similar to that of a society in which the number of available women is depleted by polygamy. In “The Puzzle of Monogamous Marriage,” a recent articlepublished in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences, Joseph Henrich and colleagues use an elementary economic model to explain the rise of monogamous marriage as a social dynamic designed to foment a number of beneficial social dynamics, including “reduc[ing] the size of the pool of unmarried men.” In economic terms, both polygamy (when more than one woman enters a marriage relationship with one man) and sex selection against females creates a deficit of women in the pool of available marriage partners. Elementary economic theory dictates that the “price” of wives will then increase concomitantly with the increase in competition for them. This competition will squeeze lower-class males out of the marriage market since they have neither the financial resources nor the social standing to attract women. Consequently, the less affluent and socially inferior men are left without brides. This is doubly pernicious since it is exactly that class of men that is most likely to commit crimes, and “across all crimes, marriage reduces a man’s likelihood of committing a crime by 35%.”

Furthermore, Henrich et al. postulate that this paucity of women will be equally deleterious toward the women themselves: “the reduced supply of unmarried women, who are absorbed into polygamous marriages, causes men of all ages to pursue younger and younger women.”

Nicholas Eberstadt of The New Atlantis elaborateseven further upon the negative social effects of a sex selection-induced decline of women and applies them globally to say that “sex-selective abortion is by now so widespread and so frequent that it has come to distort the population composition of the entire human species.” Thus the pernicious trends identified in Hvistendahl’s book as sweeping the Asian subcontinent presents serious hazards for the future of the entirety of mankind. If the international demographic data is to be believed at all, one must confess that all is not well with the global practice of abortion.

Dr. Henry Potrykus, Senior Fellow at the Marriage and Religion Research Institute, has also done work on demographics and the future of the West illustrating not only the effects of abortion or sex-selective abortion, but the decline in women’s fertility in general. He finds that “[t]he peoples of the West are self-depleting because of the adoption of extra-marital sexual norms coupled with a rejection of fertility: Negative trends in the openness to marriage and the openness to children drive an exponential decrease in the generations to come in Europe.”

To address this decline in fertility, Potrykus suggests that society must re-adopt stable marriage between a man and a woman as a societal norm. Governments and cultures must reject the non-sustainable model of society that is devoid of religion but open to polymorphous sexuality and serial polygamy. Placing religion and family at the center of a culture is the only way to make it thrive.

Sex-Selective Abortion: Consumerism at Its Best?

abortion, Asia, China, family, Jennifer Roback Morse, prostitution, women, women's health No comments
By Obed Bazikian, Intern
Abortion is seen by many who defend it to be a protected right of women. However, there is a murmur starting even among its supporters[1]that this claimed right could in some cases not only be unethical, but harmful to society. The issue at hand is sex-selective abortion, which refers to aborting an unborn child based on his or her gender, and is almost universally affecting the female population.
Asia alone has an estimated 160 million women lacking in its population as a result— a number greater than all the women currently in the United States.[2]One city in China, Lianyungang, was found to have “163 boys for every 100 girls under age five.” [3]While the Chinese government’s one-child policy[4]is indeed a major contributor that encourages this practice, it does not explain the cause for sex-selective abortions in other nations. India, the Caucasus nations, and others are increasingly choosing boys over girls before birth. Armenia’s ratio is currently 120 males to 100 females.[5]The shortage of females being born now will lead to an even greater disparity in the future, if this alternative practice of “choice” is permitted to continue unchecked.
In her book Unnatural Selection, Mara Hvistendahl analyzes the reasons for the increased rate of female sex-selective abortions and its consequences on society. One reason is simply preference, she says, citing that “parents in nearly all cultures say they prefer boys.” Through further analysis, Hvistendahl says that the increased accessibility to medical technology, such as ultrasound, in many regions of the world also contributes to the imbalance. The fact that ultrasound has become more affordable to a broader population has indeed made choosing boys even easier.
What are the ramifications of this choice? One obvious result is a smaller number of women to marry, which would have effects on the demographics of this and later generations. However, the lack of women would foster a climate in which crime could increase tremendously, particularly prostitution and sex-slavery. Jennifer Roeback Morse of the Ruth Institute discussed Hvistendahl’s work, saying, “The exclusive sharing of sexual intimacy with a husband in the protective bonds of marriage becomes more expensive than arrangements giving multiple men access to a single woman. Hence, prostitution, voluntary or otherwise, becomes lucrative as the demand for commercial sex increases. In addition, men without wives are more likely to become violent and commit crimes.”[6]The illusion of intimacy found in commercial sex takes prominence in a society where true, healthy companionship is not encouraged or, in societies with too few women, is not often possible.
There is another ramification to choice which takes place at a cultural level. Hvistendahl has at the end of her book a conversation with Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg, who founded a fertility clinic in Los Angeles. The clinic now advertises for sex-selective abortion, guaranteeing 100% the gender desired, which has proved to be a very popular request at his facility. Steinberg has said “Gender selection is a commodity for purchase…If you don’t like it, don’t buy it.”[7]However, this is a very slippery slope. If Steinberg argues that gender is a commodity, what is to stop us from viewing life as a commodity, too? Of course, choosing gender and choosing life are not the same thing. But where are the limits to our choices? A life has value and is beautiful, whether it is male or female. If our culture does not place value upon life itself as God has ordained, gender selection may just be the tip of the iceberg.

[1] Morse, Jennifer Roback. “Unnatural Selection,”, February 6, 2012,
[2] Mara Hvistendahl, “Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men,” (PublicAffairs, 2011), 5-6
[3] Mara Hvistendahl, “Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men,” (PublicAffairs, 2011), 23
[4] Hesketh, Therese. “The Effect of China’s One-Child Family Policy after 25 Years,” The New England Journal of Medicine 353 (September 2005): 1171-1176,
[5] Mara Hvistendahl, “Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men,” (PublicAffairs, 2011), 13
[6] Morse,Jennifer Roback. “Unnatural Selection,”, February 6, 2012,
[7] Mara Hvistendahl, “Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men,” (PublicAffairs, 2011), 251