The gender imbalance in Chinese newborns has improved for a third year but is still alarmingly high, and progress in combatting the problem has slowed.
The official People's Daily newspaper reported Thursday that 117.78 boys were born to every 100 girls in China last year, down slightly from 117.94 in 2010.
The natural gender ratio at birth is between 103 and 107 boys to every 100 girls. Traditionally, Chinese families favor sons, and the country's one-child policy in part drives the practice of selective abortions.
China showed more dramatic progress in battling the problem in recent years, with the ratio dropping from 120.56 in 2008 to 119.45 in 2009, and falling sharply to below 117 in 2010.
The newspaper says efforts to crack down on illegal prenatal gender tests and selective abortions have helped alleviate the gender imbalance.
Despite the slight improvement, the gender imbalance is high and China is projected to have 24 million more men than women of marriageable age by 2020, the newspaper reported.
Zhang Jian, spokesman for the National Population and Family Planning Commission, told the newspaper the gender imbalance would cause serious social problems, such as trafficking in brides and unrest among young males unable to find partners.
Yang Juhua, a demographic professor at Renmin University in Beijing, said China should address the gender issue by improving women's rights. In China, women lag behind men in job opportunities and compensation.
(This version CORRECTS ratio figures for 2010 and 2009, which were reversed.)