These Countries Now Have a Historic Imbalance of Men to Women

Some European countries are now reporting a historic dude imbalance. We asked population experts what this might mean for women.

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Jun 1 2016, 2:25pm

Photo by Igor Madjinca via Stocksy

For the first time in modern history, men outnumber women in many European countries, a trend which is causing demographic experts and policy makers across Europe mild concern. Imbalances in gender ratio have been linked to a plethora of issues in countries across the world: whether it's female fetuses being disproportionately aborted in India, to increases in crime linked to China's one-child policy.

For the most part, European countries haven't been affected by the social implications of gender imbalances in recent years—until now.

Official statistics from the Swedish authorities state that men began outnumbering women in the country from March 2015 onwards, Associated Press reports. Since then, the sex differential has continued to climb. Exclusive figures shown to Broadly by Tomáš Sobotka, a population expert at Vienna's Institute of Demography, reveal that the sex ratios for the Norwegian and Swedish populations between the ages of 17 to 20 in January revealed a strong imbalance of 108 men per 100 women in Sweden and 107 for Norway, compared to a norm of 105 per 100.

Sobotka explains this dude surplus that can be attributed to two main factors. Advances in modern medicine mean that men are living longer, healthier lives—and catching up to women in life expectancy. Meanwhile, Europe is feeling the demographic after-effects of the refugee crisis, as predominantly male migrants flee war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

Exact figures for the number of male refugees who've entered Europe are difficult to obtain, as official population statistics take years to compile. Combined with delays in processing asylum applications, it means we're a way off knowing the true implications of the refugee wave on European demography.

However, Sobotka predicts that once pending asylum applications are processed, the sex ratio among young people aged 15 and 19 in Sweden and Norway will exceed 110, meaning that for every 100 teenage girls there'll be an extra ten teenage boys to go around. Figures from Italy and Greece (the epicenter of the refugee crisis) suggest that 66 percent of refugees are male, though men often undertake the perilous journey first and send for female relatives on their arrival.

Although the thought of having surplus boys might bring cheer to the hearts of teenage girls everywhere, a male-female population imbalance can be seen as a cause for concern—whatever the reason behind it. "In countries where marriage is almost universal, and where it is linked to the reinforcement of local cultural, political and economic structures, a local shortage of females can break these structures down," says Jonathan Cave, an economist and population expert at the University of Warwick. Female empowerment (higher educational outcomes leading to fewer women getting married, and later in life) exacerbates this trend in most Western countries.

Read more: Turkey's President Claims Muslim Women Should Reject Birth Control

The result? "From a demographic point of view, the 'traffic jam' effect is the most disturbing." Cave explains this is when an imbalance between the numbers entering marriageable age and those actually getting married causes a large "traffic jam" of unmarried people to form: a metaphoric queue of lonely singletons slowing down to watch a bridal party traffic wreck.

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We've known for some time that women often suffer in countries with imbalanced gender ratios. Female infanticide in India spans centuries, with an estimated three million girls "missing" as a result of social preferences for male heirs. One researcher from the University of Carolina describes Chinese sheng nu, or 'leftover women' as suffering from the effects of a historic gender imbalance, meaning that men of a similar socio-economic status will prefer to date women with a lesser degree of education.

While Cave is cautious about inferring negative conclusions, he acknowledges "large numbers of unmarried—and often displaced—young men do tend to spell trouble, whether in Asia, Africa, Europe or the Americas. In the past, this has shown up as crime and violence; now it is perhaps feeding radicalization and terrorism as well, and provoking dangerous cultural or even racist reactions."


Watch: Unmarried at 27: Meet China's 'Leftover' Women


However, Sobotka argues that while "this sex ratio is being skewed in some [European] countries... we have no idea how long this refugee wave will last, it's difficult to speculate what this will mean in the long term," pointing out that women may follow male relatives who have already settled in Europe in recent years, helping to re-balance the sex ratio.

At a national level, he explains that the gender differential remains relatively low. "The absolute number of refugees are comparatively small, so it would require a continued huge influx to shift the absolute structure and gender attitudes of the mainstream population."

Read more: Restricting Abortion Access Is a Terrible Way to Fix Your Population Crisis

Feminist researchers also say that the number of men in a population does not matter as much as the role played by "hyper-masculine" attitudes in societies. "The way in which masculinity works in different societies needs to be taken into account," Annick Wibben, a University of San Francisco associate professor, told Associated Press.

What's important, Sobotka says, is that European countries are able to integrate new members of their society in ways that are respectful of cultural sensitivities. "Some migrants come from countries with more traditional values pertaining to gender and sexuality than European countries, which can cause misunderstanding in some of how these men think they should behave towards women. The challenge for the host societies is to educate these men about gender norms in Europe and how they should act when they deal with women."