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Science notes / Medicine, sociology

Sex selection yields too many males

Sex selection in parts of China and India will produce a 10 percent to 20 percent excess in males in the next 20 years, according to a new study. Many couples in China, India and South Korea prefer sons. This cultural pattern, combined with the use of ultrasound technology for sex selection over the past two decades, has produced the shift, said the authors of an analysis published in the Journal of the Canadian Medical Association. In nature, about 105 males are born to every 100 females. However, that ratio has exceeded 130 to 100 in several Chinese provinces, and 125 to 100 in some areas of India.

All of these countries have laws against sex-selective abortion, but the laws are rarely enforced. The trend is not without major social implications. Many more men will be unable to marry, said the authors of the study, from the University College London Centre for International Health and Development. Violence, crime and psychological problems are expected to rise because of the imbalance.

"Nothing can realistically be done to reduce the current excess of young males, but much can be done to reduce sex selection now, which will benefit the next generation," they wrote. In China, a public campaign is already under way to promote gender equality and the advantages of having female children. China has also started to relax its one-child policy.

-- Los Angeles Times


Teen bullying tied to social status

Scientists have confirmed an axiom of teenage life: Kids intent on climbing the social ladder at school are more likely to pick on their fellow students. The finding, reported in the American Sociological Review, suggests that efforts to combat bullying in schools should focus more closely on social hierarchies.

"By and large, status increases aggression," said sociologist Robert Faris of the University of California-Davis, who led the study. He and a colleague studied relationships among 3,722 middle and high school students over an academic year and found that the teens' propensity toward aggression rose along with their social status. Aggressive behavior peaked when kids hit the 98th percentile for popularity, suggesting they were clawing their way to the top.

However, those who were in the top 2 percent of a school's social hierarchy generally didn't harass their fellow students. At that point, they may have had little left to gain by being mean, Faris said.

The researchers quantified this by administering surveys to eighth-, ninth- and 10th graders in 19 schools in North Carolina in fall 2004 and again in spring 2005. At the beginning of the school year, 40 percent of students had harassed another classmate; in the spring, 33 percent had done so. Higher social status -- defined as occupying the hub of a school's social network -- in the fall predicted higher rates of aggression in the spring.

-- Los Angeles Times

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