Sex ratios at birth in Australia according to mother's country of birth: A national study of all 5 614 847 reported live births 1997-2016

Kristina Edvardsson, Mary-Ann Davey, Rhonda Powell, Anna Axmon

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Objectives Son preference and sex selective practices have resulted in a deficit of girls in several countries, primarily across Asia. Emerging evidence indicates that son preference survives migration to Western high-income countries. The objective of this study was to assess male-to-female (M/F) ratios at birth per mother's country of birth in Australia 1997-2016, in total and by parity, and by states/territories and over time. Methods Data for this national population-based cross-sectional study were obtained from the National Perinatal Data Collection (NPDC) and included all live births in Australia 1997- 2016 (N = 5 614 847). M/F ratios with 95% Confidence Intervals were estimated. Results The M/F ratio for births to Australian-born mothers was within the expected range (1.03- 1.07) regardless of parity and time period. M/F ratios were elevated above the expected range for births to mothers born in China in the total sample (M/F ratio 1.084, 95% confidence interval 1.071-1.097) and at parity 2 (1.175, 1.120-1.231), and for births to mothers born in India at parity 2 (1.146, 1.090-1.204). Parity 2 births were the most consistently male-biased across time. Across states, elevated M/F ratios were identified for both groups in New South Wales (China parity 2: 1.182, 1.108-1.260; India parity 2: 1.182, 1.088- 1.285), for births to Chinese-born mothers in Victoria (total births: 1.097, 1.072-1.123; parity 1: 1.115, 1.072-1.159) and Australian Capital Territory (total births: 1.189, 1.085-1.302) and births to Indian-born mothers Western Australia (parity 2: 1.307, 1.122-1.523). Conclusions Son preference persists in some immigrant communities after migration to Australia. The consistent pattern of elevated M/F ratios across the larger states indicates that sex imbalances at birth are largely independent of restrictiveness of local abortion laws. Drivers and consequences of son preference in Western high-income settings should be explored to further promote gender equality, and to strengthen support for women who may be vulnerable to reproductive coercion.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0251588
Number of pages15
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021

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