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Missing Girls or Hidden Girls? A Comment on Shi and Kennedy's “Delayed Registration and Identifying the ‘Missing Girls’ in China”

  • Yong Cai (a1)


In a recent article published in this journal, Yaojiang Shi and John Kennedy suggest that China's missing girls problem is much more a statistical artefact than previously known. According to their analysis, unreported female births, or hidden girls, account for 73 per cent of the 15 million missing girls from the 1990–2010 birth cohorts in the 2010 census. Their conclusion is based in part on their fieldwork, but the numerical estimate is grounded on their understanding and analyses of Chinese census data. While the insights from their fieldwork – that China's political system leaves ample room for data manipulation and delayed registration – cannot be faulted, Shi and Kennedy's analyses of Chinese census data are questionable and their conclusion is in contradiction with the “missing girls” shown in other data sources. In this short note, I present three lines of evidence to challenge Shi and Kennedy's conclusion: one from the censuses, one from official education statistics, and one from survey data. For the sake of clarity, I use two terms to describe missing girls: nominal missing – the number of missing girls as revealed by population statistics, and truly missing – the number of missing girls excluding those hidden (unreported) girls. My conclusion backs the conventional wisdom about the missing girls phenomenon in China: the elevated sex ratios in Chinese population, or “missing girls,” is not a statistical artefact, but a real social challenge that China has to face for now and for the foreseeable future.



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