International Journal of Public Health

, Volume 57, Issue 3, pp 459–465

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


  • Chi Zhou
    • Department of Public HealthZhejiang University
  • Xiao Lei Wang
    • Department of Public HealthZhejiang University
  • Xu Dong Zhou
    • Department of Public HealthZhejiang University
    • Centre for International Health and DevelopmentUniversity College London
Original Article

DOI: 10.1007/s00038-011-0267-3

Cite this article as:
Zhou, C., Wang, X.L., Zhou, X.D. et al. Int J Public Health (2012) 57: 459. doi:10.1007/s00038-011-0267-3



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

Copyright information

© Swiss School of Public Health 2011