If you think that scarcity makes women more valuable, you are right -- but that does not mean females benefit. As "surplus men" have trouble finding mates, young girls are forced into prostitution. Others are forced into arranged marriages. On Taiwan's eBay, Hvistendahl finds three Vietnamese women for sale for $5,400.
Those women who do well economically in the new order sadly are likelier to abort daughters in favor of sons. The results are equally bleak for men. Many boys grow up knowing they are unlikely to marry and start a family. In two years, 1 in 10 Chinese men will lack a female counterpart. The Chinese have a term -- "fenqing," meaning "angry youth" -- to describe the legions of young males likely to grow old alone. They find release in places such as the Rising Sun Anger Release Bar, where "for the price of a few drinks customers can ... pummel one of the bar's hired hands." In that equation, both men are losers.
In three decades, Vietnam -- a poor country that provides brides and kidnapped prostitutes to affluent overly male nations -- will have 4.3 million surplus men.
Hvistendahl finds no shortage of villains in this story. There's China's one-child policy, which resulted in untold forced abortions. Western governments and charities threw money at family-planning efforts to stem population growth in Asia with little concern to the methods -- forced sterilizations and abortions -- employed. Then there are the willing participants -- doctors, nurses and parents -- who chose to engage in female feticide. French demographer Christophe Guilmoto recalls an Indian woman who was livid because she had aborted a boy after a doctor misdiagnosed the gender of her fetus.
I was struck at the distortion of good intentions. Family planning does promote prosperity, while overpopulation is unhealthy and destabilizing. Researchers develop technologies to help families. But in a world where technology moves faster than ethical thinking, giving would-be parents the gender they prefer is good business. So you get fertility clinics like the Los Angeles outfit that advertises, "Be certain your next child will be the gender you're hoping for."