Original Article

International Journal of Public Health

, Volume 57, Issue 3, pp 459-465

First online:

Son preference and sex-selective abortion in China: informing policy options

  • Chi ZhouAffiliated withDepartment of Public Health, Zhejiang University
  • , Xiao Lei WangAffiliated withDepartment of Public Health, Zhejiang University
  • , Xu Dong ZhouAffiliated withDepartment of Public Health, Zhejiang University
  • , Therese HeskethAffiliated withCentre for International Health and Development, University College London Email author 

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There is growing evidence in China that son preference is on the decline, but the sex ratio at birth is still the highest in the world at around 120 male births to 100 females. The aim of the study was to explore attitudes towards gender preference among people of reproductive age, to determine the reasons why the sex ratio is persistently high, and to inform policy options.


We conducted in-depth interviews with 212 individuals who aged from 18 to 39 in rural and urban areas of three provinces: Yunnan, Guizhou and Zhejiang.


We show that while son preference has weakened considerably, it has not disappeared. The sex ratio remains high, because of this small minority of individuals, who still choose sex-selective abortion to ensure male offsprings.


Intensive local policy interventions have been successful in reducing the sex ratio in some areas and these should be disseminated widely. In addition, the law forbidding sex selection should be actively enforced, and the One Child Policy should be relaxed in some areas, to reduce the disproportionately high sex ratio in the second order births.


China Son preference Sex-selective abortion Sex ratio Policy