Central Data Catalog

Citation Information

Type Report
Title Missing Women in the Former Soviet Union? Son Preference and Children's Health in the Transition from Communism
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2013
URL http://people.brandeis.edu/~ebrainer/missingwomen_oct2013.pdf
As in most industrialized countries, sex ratios in the Soviet Union revealed little
evidence of son preference: sex ratios at birth fluctuated around the biological norm of 1.05
males to females in the western republics as well as in the more traditional, less industrialized
republics in Central Asia and the Caucasus. This is as expected in light of the Soviet state’s
longstanding efforts to promote secularization of these societies and equal treatment of women.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, sex ratios at birth in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and
Georgia have increased drastically and are now at levels comparable to those found in currentday
China and India. Is this increase in sex ratios due to a change in parental preferences for sons
– perhaps due to a change in the relative returns to boys in the transition to capitalism – or does it
reflect the re-emergence of pre-existing son preference in the region? Micro data from the 2001
Census of Armenia, the 1999 and 2009 Censuses of the Kyrgyz Republic, and data on women’s
fertility histories from the Demographic and Health Surveys for Armenia (2000, 2005, 2010),
Azerbaijan (2005), and Kazakhstan (1995, 1999) are used to investigate this and related
questions. The results indicate that son-biased fertility stopping behavior characterized all of
these countries during the Soviet era. With the increased availability of sex-revealing technology
in the 1990s, this behavior shifted towards behavior consistent with sex-selective abortion in
Armenia and Azerbaijan. The practice is most prevalent among women who are more highly
educated and wealthier. Parental preferences for sons also result in better health outcomes for
boys relative to girls in Armenia.

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