In the world of gender politics, death is the latest measure of parity.
Not only do women outlive men, but recent research shows that they're also being born more often than in the past. The allegedly stronger sex, it turns out, is really the weaker and more vulnerable -- from conception until death do us part.
Nature has always seen to it that about 105 males were born for every 100 females, but that ratio has been shifting the past three decades, possibly owing to environmental pollution as well as to stressful current events.
In both the U.S. and Japan, the male-to-female ratio dropped between 1970 and 2001 -- from 106.3 boys for every 100 girls to fewer than 105 per 100 in Japan, and from 105.5 to 104.6 in the U.S.
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh say that these dips, though small, suggest that paternal exposure to environmental pollutants is taking a toll on the male reproductive system. Some studies have shown that certain pollutants may affect the viability of sperm that bear the Y chromosome, which determines male sex.
In Italy, men who were exposed to dioxin during an industrial explosion fathered significantly fewer boys than girls. Another study of workers at a Russian herbicide plant found that only 38 percent of children born to the male workers were boys, while female workers produced the normal male-to-female ratio.
If the environment doesn't reduce the male population, current events may. Last year, researchers at the University of California at Berkeley reported that women stressed out during pregnancy tend to produce fewer males. In the former East Germany, for instance, male birth rates declined following the country's 1991 economic collapse.
One possible explanation is that when women are stressed, their bodies produce high levels of stress hormones -- glucocorticoids -- that cause problems for male fetuses. Researchers concluded that women's bodies spontaneously abort weak male fetuses and embryos because weak sons aren't likely to produce as many offspring as will strong sons -- or even weak daughters.
If nature is unpredictable, at least she is consistently ruthless.
Not only do the strongest survive, but only the strongest males make it to the birth canal.
Meanwhile, other studies indicate that male testosterone levels and sperm counts are decreasing, while the rate of testicular cancer, which affects mostly young men, is increasing.
With lower levels of male hormones, lower sperm counts and fewer male babies, things are not looking good for males. Nor for females who love their sons, husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles and assorted others of the hirsute persuasion.
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