Sunday, July 04, 2004

A War on Women?

Saturday's NY Times reviews a book by two pol sci academics, Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia's Surplus Male Population. The title supposedly comes from a Chinese term for men with no prospect of marriage or children. This has turned out to be an increasingly likely prospect. Pre-natal ultrasound scanning and abortion have translated the traditional preference for sons in patriarchal societies into a sex ratio of boys to girls of up to 1.25:1 in China and India. They speculate that when these boys grow up with no prospects of having families to divert and socialise them, that civil unrest and even international conflict become more likely. It sounds almost like my single-sex Christian Brothers secondary school, on a much larger scale.

Almost as an afterthought, the review reports:
Mr. Fish of Berkeley, in his own research into why democracy is so rare in Muslim countries, has examined 150 countries with populations over 500,000 and has concluded that the status of women, more than anything else, explained the strength or weakness of democracy. And the two biggest indicators of female status, he said, were sex ratios and the gap in literacy between men and women. On average, he found that Muslim countries had sex ratios of 102 men for every 100 women, although it can go as high as 125 men for every 100 women in Saudi Arabia, for example."
I looked for UN and other data on this, but the Chinese data didn't show an imbalance much beyond 110% boys/girls in the youngest age cohorts, not much beyond the 107% natural rate. However, I was absolutely shocked when I looked at the data for young adults in Saudi Arabia: According to the US Census bureau,

Age Cohort      Males/Females %

   20-24         139.6

   25-29         168.9

   30-34         162.8

   35-39         158.5

   40-44         133.2

Is demographics is destiny? Sam Huntington pointed out that the youth bulge peaked in Algeria and Iran at the time of their political upheavals in The Clash of Civilisation, then Saudi faces REAL trouble.

How could such a skewed ratio come about? Maybe the women are undercounted if they are kept away from census counters? Perhaps the same social pressure operates as in China, but I'm not sure how that happens when resources are much more available in the oil-financed universal welfare-state.

I read much of one-time CIA agent Bob Baer's book "Sleeping with the Devil", forecasting trouble ahead, in Washington last year. He gave a precis in the Atlantic, which is mirrored here.

Elaborating on my response to John's post, Standard and Poors gives Saudi an "A" foreign currency long-term rating, about the same as Cyprus, the Czech Republic or Estonia, so oil hardly makes them Switzerland with palm trees. Moody's, as usual, is more pessimistic, awarding them a Baa2, not very far away from the speculative universe.