Finally, We're Here!


As per the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS 2019-21), India has 1,020 females per 1,000 males. For the first time in history, the data has surprised the nation. Let's delve into the data to understand the more significant implications of such a skew towards women in the sex ratio.

Surprising survey result

Caution is applicable while analyzing the latest sex ratio number. Well, the projected population of the nation was 1.29 billion in 2016. If the sex ratio were to be 991, as predicted by NFHS 2015-16, the population would then have constituted 643 million women and 649 million men.

For an anticipated population of 1.36 billion in 2021, with a sex ratio of 1,020, there would be 688 million women and 675 million men. Such a break-up leads to the possibility of a near-double rise in the population of women against that of men in the last five years (45 million women vis-a-vis 26 million men). Indeed the difference appears enormous, even after considering differing death rates of the sexes.

Comparison between NFHS and census data

NFHS, a large-scale survey, has covered roughly 650,000 households in the latest round across states. It has consistently overestimated the sex ratio compared with population census.

In 2005-06, NFHS considered the sex ratio at 1:1, whereas census 2011 exhibited it as 943 females per 1,000 males. After demonstrating progress between 1998-99 and 2005-06, NFHS estimate dropped again in 2015-16. The good news is that census data has revealed a steady rise in the sex ratio for the last three decades. Population experts suggest that covid-related migrant flows may have influenced NFHS findings.

Jashodhara Dasgupta, a sex ratio expert said that census figures were more reliable than NFHS. That is because the entire population of the country was counted during a census and the sex ratio was then calculated on the total number. “NFHS counts only certain women, who belong to specific demographic categories. There is a bias in it. Just look at the state figures where the sample size is too small. We will have to wait for the next census figures to get a clearer picture,” she said.

A novel scenario of the regional divide

As many as 30 out of 36 states and Union territories witnessed improved sex ratios from 2015-16; 23 states reported sex ratios greater than 1,000 in the latest NFHS study. Regardless of this remarkable progress, there is a significant regional disparity as affirmed historically, with southern states being the leaders and north-western states being the laggards.

Impact of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao policy 

Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (BBBP) was initiated in 2015 to enhance the declining child sex ratio (CSR)—girls per 1,000 boys in 0-6 years. Sex ratio at birth (SRB) demonstrated by NFHS can be an imperfect proxy for CSR. Amongst the states with low SRB, Delhi (812 to 923), Haryana (836 to 893), and Punjab (860 to 904) appeared noticeable improvements, whereas Rajasthan (887 to 891) stood still in the last five years. These states also had a more significant representation in the districts envisioned under the first and second phases of BBBP (2015-17).

The expectation of more women in the workforce

Unfortunately, India has fallen on the labor force participation rate (LFPR) of females above 15 years despite an improving sex ratio over the last two decades. As per World Bank data, from 38% in 2001, LFPR of females has fallen to 26% in 2020, and it fares poorly against 78% LFPR of males in India. A significant reason behind the gap is a higher participation rate for Indian women than for men in unpaid domestic duties. For India to get rid of its "Missing Women" tag, it must invest in policies to assure women are not missing in the workforce.

Poonam Muttreja, the executive director of the Population Foundation of India, stated, “It is heartening to see the improvements in the overall sex ratio. It reflects the strides that the country has made towards gender equality and women’s empowerment.”

“With greater access to literacy and education, the aspirations of women are fast changing,” added Muttreja. “Girls are asserting themselves and taking charge of their lives, and will play a critical role in the growth and development of the country in the future.” (Source: The Guardian).

The data results from a combination of increased life expectancy of women and improvement in the sex ratio at birth or the number of female births for every 1,000 male births.  However, there is a doubt that India will experience a fall in its population. Currently, the second largest in the world, for another 30 or 40 years, in part because more than 30% are between the ages of 10 and 30 and are anticipated to have children over the next two decades.

Considering the picture, the nation might be leading towards the significant accomplishment of women’s empowerment. It means the nation needs to revise multiple policies as per the sex ratio, such as reservation seats in educational or many other sectors.

Pertaining to history, any new idea takes some time to be accepted or followed from the very ground level. Don’t you think it might be the same in this case too? Even though the so-called era of women is at the forefront, several women are still facing the same insecurities and in-equalities, just because of the strongly embedded thoughts of patriarchy in the society.

Hence, the nation is looking for answers of “not-generally asked questions”. Such as, what would be the upcoming policies of the government to overcome the insecurities from the core of society? How would it be executed and implemented? And how long will it take to accept the requirement of equal opportunities among the population?