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India now has more women than men but sex ratio at birth still low

NFHS 2019-2021 indicates that India has made significant strides in the last five years - in 2015-16, the sex ratio was just 991

Child Sex Ratio | Sex Ratio | National Family Health Survey

Ruchika Chitravanshi & Ishaan Gera  |  New Delhi 

sex ratio
Data also indicates that six states saw a decline in sex ratio compared to 2015-16.

India’s overall — women per thousand men — is now at a level seen in developed countries. For every 1,000 men, India has 1,020 women. If that’s a reason to celebrate, there is a cause for concern, too, since the at birth continues to be lower than what is naturally expected. The fifth Family Health Survey (NFHS), from where this data comes, has also found that the is better in rural areas compared to urban centres.

NFHS 2019-2021 indicates that India has made significant strides in the last five years — in 2015-16, the sex ratio was just 991. However, analysis also shows that 13 states and union territories still have more males than females. In a rural versus urban analysis, the sex ratio was found skewed in favour of males in rural areas of 14 states, while 22 states had a sex ratio favouring males in urban areas.

“It has been observed that in backward states and districts, the female-male ratio is better as medical facilities are yet to become easily available,” says Amitabh Kundu, research advisor, Oxfam, adding, “In districts where these are available, sex determination goes up and sex ratio declines.”

The union territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu had the worst urban sex ratio: 775 women per 1,000 men. And Delhi had the worst rural sex ratio (859) among all states.

Kundu points to a catch-22 situation — that development may empower women but it brings down the number of girl children. “This is the case in most of the northern states. Urban sex ratio for children is lower than rural for the same reason. Overall urban sex ratio is low also because of male selective migration from rural to urban areas,” he adds.

Data also indicates that six states saw a decline in sex ratio compared to 2015-16.

(Click here to see chart)

(Click here to see chart)

Experts say the decline in sex ratio at birth calls for an urgent need to strengthen pre-conception and prenatal diagnostic technique norms.

So, does a decline in sex ratio at birth signify a worsening of sex ratio going forward?

“Not necessarily,” says Suresh Sharma, head of population research centre at Institute of Economic Growth. “Sex ratio at birth and overall sex ratio differ by virtue of migration streams. It cannot be directly drawn from a declining sex ratio at birth that the overall sex ratio will also remain skewed moving forward.”


Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Chandigarh, Chhattisgarh and Ladakh witnessed a decline in sex ratios compared to 2015-16, while Lakshadweep saw it improve to 1,187 from 1,022. The sex ratio for Delhi increased 59 in favour of females during this period.

But the headline number does not present a complete picture. The sex ratio at birth for the country was still 929 females per males — an improvement from 919 in 2015-16, but still lower than the natural standard of 952 female births per 1,000 male births.

Analysis indicates that 19 states/UTs had a lower sex ratio than the natural standard, and the sex ratio at birth was more skewed in urban areas than rural centres. Twenty-nine states had a lower sex ratio at birth than the natural standard in urban areas as compared to 21 states that had worse than natural standards in rural areas.

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First Published: Thu, November 25 2021. 22:54 IST