'More women than men' an overestimate, say experts; demand further evidence

The latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS) data showing that there are 1,020 women for every 1,000 men in India is in all likelihood an overestimate and does not represent the actual numbers, top population scientists have said. “This is an unexpected trend, which needs further evidence and explanation,” the Population Foundation of India said. The International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS), an autonomous organisation of the health ministry which conducted the survey, clarified to Business Standard that any survey estimate of the sex ratio would be slig.....
The latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS) data showing that there are 1,020 women for every 1,000 men in India is in all likelihood an overestimate and does not represent the actual numbers, top population scientists have said.

“This is an unexpected trend, which needs further evidence and explanation,” the Population Foundation of India said.

The International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS), an autonomous organisation of the health ministry which conducted the survey, clarified to Business Standard that any survey estimate of the sex ratio would be slightly higher compared to the actual figures because the data is collected at a household level. “Lots of institutions, the homeless, army (personnel), and hostel establishments, which are male-dominated, are not covered by this survey,” said K S James, director and senior professor, IIPS.

The sex ratio of India, according to the 2011 census, was 943 females per 1,000 males. The census projected that this would increase to 952 by 2036. There is a 29-point increase in the overall sex ratio from 991 in 2015-16 (NFHS-4) to 1,020 in 2019-21 (NFHS-5). The previous rounds of the NFHS, experts said, had shown a fair degree of variability in the overall sex ratio, which was 1,000 in 2005-06.

Some experts said the subject was drawing more attention because the latest survey showed that the number of women had crossed men.

“NFHS-5 should have put a strong warning, at least in a footnote, that its sex ratio figures are unlikely to be valid for the total population, considering the fact that a large body of researchers and policymakers look at its publications with awe and veneration,” said Amitabh Kundu of Oxfam India.

Kundu said the image of women outnumbering men could adversely affect the ongoing programmes fighting sex-selective abortions and neglect of women in education, health, and access to property rights, which was avoidable.  

The IIPS, however, said its data was needed to be studied in the context of an increase in the sex ratio year-on-year. “It shows that life expectancy is becoming better for women in the country,” James said.

He also said the sex ratio at birth should be looked at closely to understand gender balance. For 2019-21, it shows fewer females than males, at 929 per 1,000 males, but the figure has improved from 919 in 2015-16. It is, however, still lower than the World Health Organization’s estimates of the ‘natural’ sex ratio.

“A skewed sex ratio at birth shows a strong son preference and continued sex-selective practices in India. The government must invest in girls’ education, women’s empowerment and make efforts towards improving gender equality and increasing the value of the girl child,” the Population Foundation of India said in response to an email query.

 

The IIPS said what has been released so far is just a fact-sheet. By next month, the institute would release a national report providing in detail the socio-economic context of the study, James added.

“The next census should show an increase in the sex ratio. It may be less (than what is shown in the NFHS), but how far and to what extent we do not know,” James added.

The NFHS is a household survey and it does not have the framework to cover institutional population. Hence, no change in methodology is expected in the next study, which would be conducted in 2023 in the post-pandemic background.

“The next survey will have questions related to the pandemic. The technical advisory committee will decide what kind of changes need to be made to the survey to capture the impact of Covid,” James said.

The NFHS-5 India fact-sheet states that “readers should be cautious while interpreting and comparing the trends as some States and UTs may have smaller sample sizes”.

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