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China’s Missing Girls: Numerical Estimates and Effects on Population Growth


Cai, Yong & Lavely, William (2003). China's Missing Girls: Numerical Estimates and Effects on Population Growth. The China Review, 3(2), 13-29.


The 2000 census of China counted approximately 12.8 million fewer females in the cohorts born between 1980 and 2000 than would be expected if China had experienced normal sex ratios at birth and the gender-neutral mortality rates derived from mainly European-based model life tables. However, this estimate of the “nominally missing” contains a substantial component of females who are alive but hidden in the population. A comparison of cohorts enumerated as small children in the 1990 census with the same cohorts enumerated 10 years later in the 2000 census reveals that fewer than a third of the girls missing in the first enumeration subsequently appear in the second. This comparison informs our rough estimate that the number of truly missing girls in the cohorts born 1980 to 2000 is approximately 8.5 million. Although the direct effect of missing girls on population size is small, the long-term influence is considerable because the reproductive potential of the missing girls is also lost. We use cohort component projections to simulate the long-term effects under different assumed scenarios. Girls already missing can be expected to reduce China’s future population by 3.2% in 100 years. If missing rates should continue at 2000 levels for a century, population size would be reduced by 13.6%.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

The China Review


Cai, Yong
Lavely, William